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Tanzania, United Republic of: Press releases
Tanzania: Early marriage puts girls at risk of HIV
Tanzanian law allows girls aged as young as 15 to get married with parental consent and between 20% and 40% do so before reaching adulthood, according to the United Nations Population Fund, which addresses reproductive health and population issues.
The Tanzania Media Women (TANWA) report, based on pregnant adolescent girls attending hospitals in the densely populated southeastern Coast and central Morogoro provinces, commented that their husbands “characteristically have had multiple partners, which puts the girls at the risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS”. Immature and financially dependent, the adolescent brides are unlikely to be able to negotiate safer sex.
“The girls are too young and ignorant about the importance of knowing their HIV/AIDS status, and lack the courage to convince their partners to know their zero-status,” said Upendo Mwinchande, director of the AIDS Business Coalition of Tanzania (ABCT).
Although 76.6% of the TANWA study sample are aware of the risks posed by HIV, most of the expectant girls were married and refused to go for HIV tests, even after counseling. Over 6 per cent of those tested were found to be HIV-positive – just 1% below the national prevalence rate.
“The education system is not protective of young girls. They walk long distances to and from school, which exposes them to the risks of rape or abduction into marriage. The laws do not criminalise anti-girl practices, such as early marriages,” said Mwinchande.
She said the coastal and Morogoro regions still had high levels of girl illiteracy.
“Girls are still traditionally discriminated against in coastal regions, and some as young as 11 years are withdrawn from school to be married off. In health terms it is dangerous, because the tissues of the sexual organs are delicate and therefore prone to rupture during sexual intercourse, creating entry points for HIV.”
Girls who dropped out of primary school were increasingly being forced into early marriage or early sexual debut to support themselves financially.
The findings are a challenge to the government, which announced a new education policy in August emphasising the education of girls. Starting in 2007, the government plans to build more district boarding schools to counteract the low numbers of girls making the transition from primary to secondary school.
Mwinchande said the policy was long overdue and, if implemented, could help tackle HIV infection among highly vulnerable adolescents.