ending child marriage

– Tanzania

What are the challenges?

Child marriage is rife in Tanzania. The Shinyanga region has one of the highest prevalence rates of child marriage in the country, where 59% of girls are married by the age of 18. Young girls are forced into marriage for a variety of reasons – both cultural and economic – that are deeply entrenched. Child marriage itself is a form of abuse but it also most often results in limited educational and economic outcomes, especially for women and girls, contributing to continued cycles of poverty. Married to much older men, these young girls never finish school, become mothers themselves well before adulthood, and suffer a life of poverty and abuse that often goes unreported and ignored by government authorities.  

How are our CBO grantee-partners helping?


Community-based organizations are uniquely suited to navigate the space between national and international child rights policies and local cultural practices. Our CBO grantee-partners in Shinyanga work with children and young women directly to ensure that they know their rights, are safe, and receive the emotional care and support they need to thrive. They also work with a range of other stakeholders – families, community members, local leaders, child protection committees, and government authorities – in the fight against child marriage.  Our CBO grantee-partners also provide direct evidence to the national government of child marriage rates and effective child marriage prevention solutions. 

 Our twelve CBO grantee-partners are deploying a variety of approaches to fight against child marriage.  Some of these approaches include:

  • Economic strengthening for families through income-generating activities

  • Livestock pass-on programs

  • Psychosocial support for children rescued from child marriage

  • Vocational or educational support for children rescued from or at risk of child marriage

  • Skillful parenting assistance for families

  • Awareness campaigns to shift community mindsets about child marriage through radio or drama

  • Law enforcement interventions

  • Training of local child protection committees

  • Creation of child rights clubs in schools

  • Training of teachers on child rights

Working with district officials and local government, our CBO grantee-partners are also tracking cases of child marriage, abuse, and neglect. Together they are surfacing data for the district, enabling all stakeholders to have accurate records of abuse and to track changes in rates of abuse over time. In addition, our CBO grantee-partners are part of advocacy efforts aimed at ending child marriage by establishing an advocacy chapter in Shinyanga, which will feed into the new national policy that seeks to raise the age of marriage to 18 across Tanzania. 

How is Firelight helping?

Firelight is working to end child marriage in Shinyanga because we believe that if we can change outcomes where child marriage is most intractable, we can change outcomes across the country and perhaps across the region as a whole.

When the initiative began, Firelight supported our CBO grantee-partners in a deep participatory learning and action exercise known as “Community Dialogues” that involved parents, children, and community members in identifying the ways in which children were supported and harmed within their communities. This process brought to light the cross-cutting issue of child marriage, which was preventing girls from reaching their full potential and exposing them to violence, abuse, and neglect.


To enable our grantee-partners to effectively address the complex issue of child marriage, Firelight provided our CBO grantee-partners with a combination of financial grants and capacity building. To build organizational capacity, Firelight conducted periodic organizational assessments, customized one-on-one Firelight-led training in areas of organizational development, and facilitated peer-to-peer network building and learning amongst the CBO grantee-partners.

To strengthen technical and programmatic capacity, Firelight provided specialized technical support in specific areas of need such as social accountability, mentoring in skillful parenting and learning and evaluation frameworks that were tracked by Firelight and CBO grantee-partners alike.

While this cluster of organizations is rooted in rural communities on the frontlines of the fight against child marriage, Firelight also supported them to work with the district level government and to lobby the national government to change Tanzania’s marriage law. 

What has the impact been?

In just a few years, we have made a great deal of progress including surfacing real data on actual rates of child marriage, engaging families, schools and communities to look at root causes so they can solve the problem themselves and working with the district government to track and address individual cases.   But more importantly, communities have already reported reductions in child marriages and pregnancies and have seen a significant increase in local understanding of the problems of child marriage and in the communities’ desire to stop this practice. 

In July 2018, Firelight engaged the expertise of technical consultants from the AfriChild Center at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, to conduct a comprehensive progress evaluation. Child marriage was reported by community members to have reduced particularly in the urban areas. One major indicator of child marriage reduction was increased school enrollment and completion by girls and boys in ward-level government schools.

Some of the key findings from the research showed stunning results at the community level, including the following:

  • reduction in members of the child protection committees seeing infants abandoned by mothers 

  • increased number of children passing standard seven and continuing to secondary school

  • decreased rate of teenage pregnancies

  • reduction of defilements of girls which used to occur during traditional dances, at water wells, bushes, and on the way to school and homes

  • increased numbers of girls going to school

  • increased numbers of girls – those who had left school for marriage or other reasons – returning to school

  • increases in men's support of girls' education 

  • new bylaws banning child marriage adopted by community leaders and councils 

  • increased household incomes, allowing parents to support their girls' education


Along with measurable increases in organizational capacity, Firelight has been able to increase our CBO grantee-partners’ overall monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) capacity by more than 10%. Additionally, Firelight has continued to provide coaching and mentoring to individual organizations to support the actual operationalization and implementation of their MEL plans.

How are we planning for the future?

Systemic change takes time. The interventions by our CBO grantee-partners are integrated and address issues at the child, family, community and policy levels and they are changing girls’ lives while shifting local norms and building the evidence for effective community-driven solutions in the fight against child marriage. We have already seen shifts in community in attitudes towards child marriage and we believe that this will ultimately lead to decreased rates of child marriage in Shinyanga.

Our CBO grantee-partners have also created strong linkages with government and worked in partnership with them to improve child protection information management systems to end child marriage and other forms of violence against children across an entire district.

We believe that this model is potentially replicable, scalable, and is already creating added value at the national level – connecting community-based actors to a timely national conversation. In the future, we hope to adapt and apply this model to help other communities reduce child marriage not only in Shinyanga but in the country as a whole.

Communities in action

Neema Lucas, a young woman from the Shinyanga region of Tanzania, was forced into marriage to a 37-year-old man at the age of 15.  As a young girl, she grew up dreaming of becoming a teacher, but this hope disappeared when she was forced her to drop out of school after Grade 7 – at the age of 14 – to get married. Her life changed in an instant.  She relied on her husband to meet her basic needs, but he spent most of his money on alcohol and other women.  She could not find paid work because her education ended when her marriage began.

After twelve months in a marriage she did not choose, she was losing hope that her situation could change.  One day, Neema heard that a local NGO, Agape AIDS Control Program, was putting on a movie at a nearby shop for young women interested in training at the local vocational college.  While watching the film, Neema learned not only that child marriage is illegal in Tanzania, but also that Agape has helped many young women forced into child marriage to obtain a divorce and to enroll in college in order to gain skills for the local marketplace.

Agape, established in 2009, was initially founded with the aim of preventing and controlling HIV and AIDS and its effects in the community. However, they quickly realized that child marriage was also causing serious harm – not only affecting the children involved, but also producing exponential losses to the educational and economic prospects of the community.  Agape responded by raising community awareness of the negative impacts of child marriage and by rescuing girls from such marriages. These girls are then supported to enroll back into formal school or vocational training college.

Neema Lucas at her welding apprenticeship

Neema Lucas at her welding apprenticeship

In May 2015, with funding from Firelight, Agape identified 50 girls who were already married or were at risk of being married. The girls were enrolled at Bujangija Focal Development College for vocational training courses ranging from tailoring, to welding, fabrication, and electrical installation. While the majority of the girls enrolled in tailoring courses, a few chose to enroll in the male-dominated fields of welding and fabrication and electrical installation. Neema Lucas was one of these girls.

 Neema chose welding and fabrication because she used to watch the work of a local welder who lived near her house when she was young. She was fascinated by the welding machine and wished she could one day get an opportunity to hold it in her hands.  After enrolling at the college, Neema was scared because the class was full of boys and only a small handful of girls.  She motivated herself to work hard in the especially demanding course, and at the end, her hard work paid off.  Neema passed her exams and graduated in December 2015. In January 2016, she was hired as welder in Shinyanga. 

As part of her new job, she receives welding orders from the community for household goods such as gates, stands for stoves, chairs, and tables and constructs them out of various metals.  Neema Lucas is the only female employed at the company. According to her manager, Joseph, Neema was very keen to learn when she joined the company.  Customers are impressed by her work and have come back with more business.  At first, her peers doubted her capabilities, but Neema has proven herself as a skilled welder. Now, she is considered a force to be reckoned with.

Neema says her life has changed for the better since becoming gainfully employed. She is able to look after herself and her mother—something she could never do when she was married. She has regained her sense of hope for her future.