Child marriage saved by a box

"We found a note in the happy and sad box that said Upendo* is married"

07 June 2022
The "Happy and Sad Box" that saved Upendo from child marriage
“We found a note in the happy and sad box that said ‘Upendo* is married'", shared Mr. Kapesa, headteacher of a primary school in Mwanza Region, Tanzania.

UNICEF has been supporting schools in Magu District and across the mainland to establish and use happy and sad boxes, which provide students with a safe and confidential means to communicate to the school on issues that affect them, both good and bad. Including child protection concerns inside and outside of school.

“The happy and sad boxes have been really helpful to the school and the students. We have been able to uncover several cases of violence and abuse and to address challenges within the school.”

Mr. Kapesa, headteacher of a primary school in Mwanza Region, Tanzania
Head teacher Mr Kapesa who saw the note in the happy and sad box.
Headteacher, Mr. Kapesa, saw the note in the happy and sad box.

Upendo*, 15, used to attend school regularly and perform well. But since schools reopened again after the COVID-19 shutdown, she had missed many classes. When teachers saw the note in the happy and sad box, they summoned her mother to the school to explain. She never showed up. The headteacher decided to refer the case to the district social welfare officer and they both agreed to meet at the police station.

At the police station, the headteacher and district social welfare officer opened a child marriage case for investigation and were surprised to be told that Upendo’s mother had just reported her daughter missing. The investigating officer summoned Upendo’s mother for questioning. Initially, she was very defensive, but she eventually confessed that her 15-year-old daughter was staying with a man in his early twenties believed to be her husband. The case was then taken to the district court, and in May 2021, the perpetrator was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

“In class, her mind seemed to be far away."

Mr. Kapesa, headteacher.

After the case was closed, Upendo returned to school to prepare for her standard seven national exams, but she was very distracted. “In class, her mind seemed to be far away. Some of the students would make fun of her, but with support from one of the school’s trained guidance and counseling teachers, she slowly returned to her normal self and eventually sat for her national exams,” said Mr. Kapesa.

In Magu District, two teachers (one female, one male) and the headteacher from primary schools were trained on the government’s new Guidance and Counselling and Child Protection Guidelines, with support from UNICEF. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education and other partners to ensure all schools are reached with this critical training.

Upendo passed her national exams and was selected to attend secondary school.

She is one of many girls across Tanzania who face the risk of child marriage. Upendo was lucky because of the note in the happy and sad box and an active headteacher who acted quickly to help prevent the marriage from taking place. However, in the community where Upendo lives, like many communities in Tanzania, especially in rural areas, child marriage is a common practice that effectively end’s a girl’s childhood. It robs a girl of her education, replacing it with adult responsibilities, including forced pregnancy, well before she’s ready. Girls married young are at greater risk of physical and sexual violence and contracting HIV. Child marriage not only violates a girl’s rights but risks her life, the lives of her children, and the future of her community.

Some community members knew Upendo was married but did not act on it. UNICEF is working closely with local government authorities to support them in raising awareness of harmful social norms to help prevent all forms of violence against children and to keep homes, schools, and communities safe for children.

*Name changed to protect her identity.