Activists: 1971 Marriage Act has outlived its efficacy
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THE government has been urged to repeal the 1971 Marriage Act, which allows a girl child to get married at tender age of 15 years. Special Seats Member of Parliament, Conchesta Rwakalaza, (Chadema), made the call here during the commemoration of the International Women’s Day held at the Cardinal Rugambwa Memorial University College (CARUMUCO).

While the Child Act, 2009, identifies a child as a person aged below 18 years, the 1971 Law of Marriage allows a girl child to get married at age 15. Section 13 of the Act specifies that no person shall marry who, being male has not attained the apparent age of 18 years, or being female, has not attained the apparent age of 15. Data reveal that 36 out of 100 girls are forced to early marriages while 27 out of 100 girls get pregnant before reaching the age of 18 years.

Kagera Regional Education Development Officer, Aloys Kamamba, says that 62 girls in primary schools dropped out last year due to various reasons including truancy and pregnancies. During the celebrations the stakeholders showered praise to the late Laurian Cardinal Rugambwa, who gave priority to girls’ education by building Rugambwa Girls’ Secondary School. Tanzania has high teenage pregnancy rates.

Over 44 per cent of girls have given birth or are pregnant by the age of 19. The country has also one of the world’s lowest rates of transition – of both girls and boys – from primary to secondary school, at 36 per cent.

According to a survey carried out by the Ministry of Education, more than 16,000 girls dropped out of school from 2008 to 2010 due to pregnancy. A national survey in 2009 found that almost a third of Tanzanian girls who had sex before the age of 18 said that it was against their will.

Almost 40 percent of the girls who experienced sexual violence said they were attacked either on the way to or from school or while at school. Perpetrators included teachers – who sometimes traded sex for grades – bus conductors and taxi drivers.

The Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey of 2010 shows that about 10 per cent of women between the ages of 15 to 49 report their first sexual intercourse was forced, and that 48 per cent of married women reported experiencing sexual violence. Gender-based violence is a grave reality in the lives of women and girls in Tanzania.

Government data shows that such violence is caused by social and economic inequalities that give privilege to men over women.

Although female genital mutilation is illegal, the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) statistics show Tanzania has recorded a rise in FGM prevalence in recent years with Mara region leading with a prevalence of 39.9 per cent compared to the national average of 14.6 per cent. Kagera Regional Commissioner, Salum Kijuu has appealed to the public to take a holistic approach in eliminating child marriages and high school dropout rates. Over 600 cases related to gender-based violence (GBV) were recorded in the region between January to November, last year. During same period, 306 cases of rape, 12 cases of sodomy and 135 cases related to cruelty to women were also recorded

. Kijuu called for concerted efforts against outdated laws, customs and practices that conspire to keep millions of women in the backyard. “We must come together to keep women and girls safe and free from violence. GBV remains a major health and human rights concern and no human development can be achieved as long as women and girls continue to suffer. Explaining the magnitude of the problem, The Regional Commissioner said millions of women and girls are subjected to all forms of violence including rape, intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation and child marriages. He urged the public to give equal opportunities to girls by taking them to school and ensuring that they do not get pregnant and drop out of school. GBV and Violence against children (VAC) are among cross-cutting issues which should be addressed collectively. GBV is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender. It constitutes a breach of the fundamental right to life, liberty, security, dignity, and equality between women and men. It includes domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, sexual violence during conflict and harmful customary or traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages and other crimes. Trafficking in women, forced prostitution and violations of human rights in armed conflict in particular murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy, forced sterilisation, forced abortion, coercive use of contraceptives, female infanticide and prenatal sex selection.

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