Child marriage in Tanzania has led to serious harm, exposing girls to violence including marital rape and female genital mutilation, Human Rights Watch has said.

In a report: No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania, released on Wednesday, the rights group examined the gaps in Tanzania's child protection system and the lack of protection for victims of child marriages.

The report documented 135 cases of child marriages in 12 districts as well as interviews with government officials, local activists and international agencies.

"Tanzania’s draft Constitution unfortunately provides no minimum age for marriage," said Brenda Akia, women’s rights research fellow at Human Rights Watch.

My husband used to beat me almost every day. One day he came home and started making noises and threatening me saying he will burn me.

Patricia J, child bride

Girls interviewed told the rights group that their families forced them to marry so they could obtain dowry payments. 

Other girls said they saw marriage as a way out of poverty, violence, neglect or child labour.

Anita, 19, was forced to marry at 16, during her second year of high school.

"My father said he did not have money to support my schooling," she said. I then discovered that he had already received 20 cows as dowry for me."

Other girls used marriage to escape abusive situations.

Judith, 14, was employed as a domestic worker and married to escape abuse by her employer.

"A houseboy in the house I was working in asked me to marry him. I agreed because I saw marriage as my only option to escape mistreatment from my boss."

Offenses 'against morality'

For some, marriage was the consequence of an education system that also exposes girls to child marriage.

The Tanzanian government's Primary School Leaving examination determines which pupils may go on to secondary school. An inability to pass prohibits girls from further learning, in which case families feel there is no other alternative but to marry girls off.

Discriminatory practices and vague governmental policies have been shown to facilitate early marriages, HRW said.

Many Tanzanian schools have mandatory pregnancy testing and the government also allows schools to expel or exclude married students or students who commit offenses "against morality" which can include pre-marital relations or pregnancy. 

Girls who rejected or resisted early marriages said their families assaulted and verbally abused them or threw them out of the home. Those unable to escape marriage said their husbands beat and raped them, the study reported. 

"My husband used to beat me almost every day," said Patricia J. "One day he came home and started making noises and threatening me saying he will burn me." Patricia, whose husband had paid a $44 dowry to her father, eventually escaped her marriage.

According to HRW, four out of ten girls in the country are married before their tenth birthday.

The Tanzanian government plans to review their Marriage Act of 1971 which sets the minimum marriage age for boys at 18 and girls at 15.

Source: Al Jazeera