11th October is set as a reminder to advocate for gender equality during the commemoration of International Day of the girl child. The day provides stakeholders with a unique annual platform to raise awareness on gender equality, empower girls especially in areas where they have been neglected, and highlighting the challenges that girls face globally and locally.

To date equality in education, legal rights, child marriage, early pregnancies, access to services regarding puberty and sexual health remain as areas of greater concern to achieve SDGs 4 &5.

Child marriage limits girls’ access to education and hence narrows their chances to engage in social development, resulting in them being exposed to a number of challenges such as diseases, harmful practices, gender-based violence and deprive them of human rights.

Across the globe, 650 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood. Despite the world’s inroads progress against child marriage, with an acceleration of progress in the past 10 years, if this progress continues there will be an addition of 120 million child brides by 2030. If the progress is doubled still nearly 110 million girls will become child brides in the next decade. And if the risks of child marriage remain at today’s level there will be 170 million additional brides between today and 2030. To end child marriage by 2030 progress must be 17 times faster than the progress of the last decade (UNICEF 2020). Therefore, progress needs to be significantly accelerated to end the practice by 2030 – the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Tanzania, 31% of girls are married before they turn 18 years and 5% before they turn 15 years. According to UNICEF (2017), Tanzania has the 11th highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 779,000. Some progress has been made to reduce child marriage prevalence this is- the Tanzania Court of appeal in October 2019 upheld the 2016 high court ruling and directed the government to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 years for both girls and boys.

During the devastating time of the COVID-19 pandemic, children were learning from home. According to Tanzania household budget for 2017-2018, only 24% have television and 43% have radios, in that regard most vulnerable children did not access online learning, and even for those who accessed girl children were deprived of access due to subjecting them to more home chores and fail to get time for personal reading. Furthermore, child protection especially of girls has been projected to be more at risk compared to those of boys. They have been exposed to gender-based violence, early pregnancies, and forced into marriage.

Various regional reports reported girls’ pregnancy during the short period of school closure due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, unlike in Zanzibar where girls can resume studies after delivery of their babies, in the Mainland, the scenario is quite the opposite. School children who become pregnant are stigmatized and expelled from public schools on grounds of promiscuity and protecting the innocent girls from learning bad behaviors.

It is for this course that TEN/MET joins efforts with multiple stakeholders across the globe to amplify girls’ voices, stand for their rights and demand a society which is free from gender bias and inspires more girls to unleash their full potential and uphold education as a key protection measure against underage marriages.