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A powerful symbol of challenges facing the rural girl child

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In my course of duty down in Bukombe, Shinyanga, I just returned from a burial of an eight month old baby which passed on due to, largely what villagers view, as a result of child neglect.

It was a well attended burial ceremony, a thing that drew my  interest  to the irony of  how the local  community feels sad about a child they hardly shared a life with and the glaring  realities that perhaps,-prevent them from  giving the required care to such young innocent souls when still arrive.

The story doing rounds is that as soon as the baby was born in November last year, her young mother,19 year old Mareti Peter left her in the district hospital, leaving it to the mercy of any interested relative.

Mareti, who is a standard seven drop out has been working in local bars in the rural centres within the district.

During one of the escapades with some men who frequent her bar, she conceived and gave birth last year.

When Mareti  gave birth last year, she abandoned it and her (Mareti’s) mother immediately desperately took charge of the baby at hospital and subsequently put her negligent daughter and the baby’s run away father behind bars for three weeks. Note that, this is a family that lives on less than 600/- per day.

Amid all the attempts to save the life of the baby, it eventually succumbed to opportunistic diseases that come with child neglect. She is a daughter of a man who succumbed to cancer some 11 years ago, leaving her poor jobless mother to take care of a family with children who have now grown up and the best jobs they can take up is waiting at a rural bar with all vulnerabilities of so called men who offer a few thousand shillings to have nights with her between the sheets.

At the burial which took place yesterday, she was nowhere in sight as villagers gathered to commensurate with her mother over her little grand daughter’s death.

As  of  yesterday, there  was no doctor near by to confirm to me the cause of the death but all villagers around were convinced that it was due to the initial neglect from her biological mother. A probable pointer to things like malnutrition.

The story told of  realities in  huge bad statistics of infant child mortality rates  and circumstantial causes to some of these things only illustrated by figures in Dar es Salaam’s boardrooms.

Mareti  is among the girl children who fail to make it to education opportunities after standard seven. The predicament of her type is extended on to the innocent children they bear as they are results of what comes with circumstantially reckless sexual lives.

But even with an opportunity to attend a public secondary school thereafter, girls in Bukombe district face a number of problems, some of which may make them fail in their studies.

For example, some rural girls cannot afford sanitary pads or a change of clothes. Even at home their parent can’t provide them with things like knickers and pads.

The result is that most of the girls get annoyed and refuse to return to school. When they insist on asking their parents to provide them with these items they are instead ,sometimes marriage, albeit for convenience.

It is touching that  as opposed to the boy ,the girl child may need more to be able to stay comfortably in school,- the necessary items that help girls stay at school.

Some with backgrounds of broken families, they opt for village or manipulative boyfriends, some times in villages far away from their own. Eloping with below 16 girls  is a culture still practiced subtly including  in  my own rural area. Picture this:

Man wants girl, and as she, one day, comes from the well, the man and her few friends attack her and run off with her for marriage. They come to report to the girl’s family after a week, to ask for the girl’s hand in marriage.At this time, the man will already have slept with the girl in her house. Law enforcers have been checking this lately.

Back to the challenges, older boys or men (as it may be) deceive them, with promises of buying them as little as what their parents can not afford-, sanitary pads, knickers and other things.

But after putting a future baby in the girls’ wombs, they disappear in thin air.

And that was what some say happened to Mareti. Her singled mother had no money for basics like buying soap, clothes, food, treatment .To her, life at home was surely bleak.

As the grandmother to the deceased baby mourned, “I wish it had grown up to play in the compound like other young ones I see in peoples’ compounds.” It was clear to me that today’s society, ‘the government,’ has no option but to educate and empower the girl child. Many Maretis in rural Tanzania are gullible  and stand a risk of producing a generation in  vulnerabilities that would otherwise have been stopped by a clear education system that empowers them with opportunity, regardless of whether they come from humble backgrounds or not.

And the government should not just  raise the girl’s literacy levels, but to give her world class quality education.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. kenneth

    06/06/2010 at 1:33 pm

    Powerful,ahsante sana

  2. Fausta

    07/06/2010 at 1:48 pm

    Absolutely Orton. I think more needs to be said about the challenges girls face. Though I am not in complete agreement with some of the measures taken to address women’s historical disempowerment, I do think the more we talk about the Maretis of this world,the more we can come to understand that the playing field is not level at all and we need to do something to address these issues. Thanks for doing your part in awareness raising.

  3. Orton

    08/06/2010 at 1:28 am

    Thanks Fausta.The debate about levelling fields for both genders,methinks,should return to the drawing table.Otherwise,with mothers being responsible for the African child,it is important that historical injustices in the rotten partriarchies are addressed at supersonic speed

  4. Ledama

    21/06/2010 at 4:49 pm

    This is a powerful story Orton. I only wish the powers that be could actually level out playing fields for both male and female Children.It sad the amount of heartache that occurs in the villages due to the extremely high levels of poverty!!!

  5. Baba Caren

    11/09/2010 at 6:42 pm

    Hallo Orton, I would like to congratulate you for the story and the comments you made. On my view, I do think that the Tanzania Govt has first of all to work on the alleviation patriachal system which mostly praises men to women. By doing that I believe the world class quality education can be met due to the fact that DECISION MAKING on every developmental matter, will have to be made equally meaning by both men and women.

  6. Koku

    05/07/2011 at 5:34 pm

    I read this piece with much attention, thanks Orton for raising awareness. I work with Campaign for female education, an International organization (www.camfed.org)trying to reach such as Maretis. With this experience including my own as once a “girl child”, I agree with Fausta that more need to be said on the challenges encountered by girls. Only if we could “afford” to take every girl to school, create conducive environment ( including protection and support), this would have a very wide impact and change lives for girls, children and the community.

  7. Bassey

    27/10/2011 at 10:56 pm

    Its high time we go into action. I’m of the opinion that the government should subsidize the girl child education to enable parents take advantage of it.

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