This study investigated marital dissolution in the Tanzanian context. The study specifically focused on the potential effect of marital dissolution (both positive and negative) on early adolescents’ academic and psycho-social functioning. The primary research question directing the research is: ―How can insight into marital dissolution in Tanzania broaden our knowledge on its effect on children?‖
The conceptual framework for the study is based on attachment theory, crisis theory, family stress theory and life course theory. Epistemologically, the study utilised social constructivism as paradigm. A qualitative methodological approach was followed, implementing an instrumental case study as research design. I purposefully selected eight children from two children’s centres in Tanzania and four additional children from custodial homes. In addition, twelve parents, who had been separated from their partners, as well as twelve teachers and caregivers who have been involved with the child participants, participated in the study. For data collection I employed semi-structured interviews with the parents and children; focus group discussions with teachers and caregivers; interviews and narrations with children; and an analysis of existing documents. Field notes, a research diary and verbatim transcripts were utilised to document the data I collected.
Following inductive thematic analysis four themes emerged, relating to the reasons for marital dissolution, the effect of marital dissolution on early adolescents’ functioning, trends following marital dissolution and managing marital dissolution in Tanzania. In terms of reasons for marital dissolution I identified the following subthemes: abuse, lack of commitment to the family, influence of others, and financial strain. In terms of the effect of marital dissolution on early adolescents’ functioning three subthemes emerged namely; effect on early adolescents’ academic performance, effect on early adolescents’ psycho-social well-being, and parents’ insight into the effect of marital dissolution on their children. With regard to trends following marital dissolution I identified the following three subthemes: positive effect of marital dissolution, change in living arrangements, and other related changes negatively affecting children. Finally, two subthemes emerged concerning the management of marital dissolution in Tanzania, namely minimising the effect of marital dissolution on children, and potential role of the Tanzanian government. The findings of this study indicate that the majority of Tanzanian couples merely separate, rather than following a legal divorce. Parents showed limited insight into the effect of marital dissolution on their children. Besides some children experiencing the separation of their parents as a relief, the majority of children were negatively affected in terms of their academic performance and psycho-social functioning. Children indicated the need to be involved in discussions preceding and during the separation process, yet Tanzanian parents did not value the involvement of their children during this process. Based on the findings I obtained I conclude that the effect of marital dissolution on children are not only continuous but that the effects in various areas of functioning are interrelated and cyclic in nature, and that children can experience the effects before, during and after marital dissolution.