When it comes to the issues of child marriage, Dr Monica Mohjam is a true inspiration and a force to be reckoned with.
Living in Scotland, she works hard to improve education and learning in her homeland in Tanzania, where young girls are often taken out of primary school and forced into early marriage and motherhood.
With her first-hand experiences and knowledge of the complex community dynamics in Tanzania, Monica set up the Children’s Dignity Forum to help educate vulnerable girls at risk of child marriage and domestic violence.
Monica secured funding for the Children’s Dignity Forum from Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative, via UK diaspora organisation, FORWARD. The CGI initiative is co-funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and works with African diaspora organisations in the UK run by people of African heritage with strong emotional, cultural and political links to their country.
Warm and dignified, Monica was born and raised in a Tanzanian village where child marriage is rife. Many of her friends were child brides, so Monica has a deep understanding of the challenges facing the communities she works tirelessly to support.
She is perfectly placed to help Tanzanian families understand the benefits of not pushing their daughters into early wedlock and motherhood.
Although the legal marital age is 15, it’s common for Tanzanian girls aged 12 or 13 to marry and have children with much older men, in a bid to lift their families out of poverty.
The incentive is that their fathers are given what’s called a ‘bride price,’ which is a gift of cows given by the groom. Tragically, many girls are subjected to violence because their husbands regard them as their property.
Monica knows that the key to breaking these girls out of poverty is for them to be able to complete their education, so that they can get a good job and delay marriage and starting a family.
‘It’s about helping them understand that they have choices’, says Monica. “As a member of the African Diaspora, I want to show Tanzanian families that a girl should not automatically be married off.
“I wasn’t married at a young age and yet I am still able to help my family because I had an education, and got a good job as a lawyer.”
Monica, 50, wants all girls and young women to be able to decide when it is the right time to marry and start a family. She now lives in Scotland with her family, but has formed the Children’s Dignity Forum, co-funded by the Common Ground Initiative and DFID, to help girls understand that they can choose when to marry and have babies.
Monica works with people in the communities where she grew up to influence and change public perception about the rights of girls and women.
“As a result, fewer children are being forced to marry and have babies. Now they know they have choices and they have the courage to report any abuse. They wouldn’t have that voice if it wasn’t for these projects,” she adds.