TANZANIA’S Marriage Act of 1971 sets the minimum marriage age for girls at 15 with parental consent, and 18 for boys.
It permits the marriage of 14-year-old children when a court is satisfied that special, although unspecified, circumstances exist.
In a landmark 2016 decision, the High court ruled these provisions unconstitutional, and directed the government to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 years for both girls and boys.
This ruling followed a legal challenge by the Msichana Initiative, an organisation advocating for girls’ right to education in Tanzania.
Their petition argued that the Marriage Act violated girls’ fundamental rights to equality, dignity, and access to education, and contravened Tanzania’s Law of the Child Act.
The government appealed against the High Court decision, but the Court of Appeal upheld the 2016 High Court ruling.
Now, there is anxiety on when the government will outlaw child marriage as obliged by law to end the harms to girls.
With two out of five girls being married off before their 18th birthday, Tanzania has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, according to UN estimates.
The Msichana Initiative say local advocacy groups must continue to mount pressure on government to implement the ruling.
The organisation has now embarked on a concerted effort to develop communication materials and engage with relevant stakeholders, with the aim of persuading Parliament to amend the law to ensure true freedom for Tanzanian girls.
The Founder and Executive Director at Msichana Initiative, Ms Rebeca Gyumi says the organization recognizes that for change to take place, the community must be able to join forces with the government in preventing child marriage as well as taking action against those who practice such marriages.
Msichana Initiative has been working in areas such as the Girl Café, schools’ clubs and the Women and Child Protection Committees to ensure building equality, protecting children and women against violence and the effects of such acts.
According to Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS) data from 2015- 2016., Shinyanga region leads by 59 per cent of the total challenge followed by Tabora 58 pee cent, Mara 55 per cent, and Dodoma region which has 51 per cent and Lindi region 48 per cent from the big five leading regions.
Clementina Leonard comes from Lukali Village in Dodoma Region. She was married off in what was a Gogo traditional marriage, when she was still a child.
“After two days of marriage we were arrested and detained at a police post, it was claimed I was a minor without capacity to marry and our marriage was nullified since then I am at home,” she said.
She thanked the Girl Café through Msichana Initiative, which helped her to follow the legal steps to dissolve the marriage, now she has returned to her parents and continues to educate other girls not to get in trouble like she did,” she said. Ms Leonard has vowed to protect other girls from going through what they have experienced.
Monica Henry from Tinde area in Shinyanga region, narrated her story that when she was 12 yrs old, she was registered at school and continued with studies up to standard two when her father said sdhe could no longer continue with school.
“I had to stay at home and among others, and engage with cultivation, when I was 14 yrs old my parents agreed with man who officially introduced himself at home and paid dowry and thereby contracted the traditional Sukuma marriage and we began life under one roof,” she narrated. Msichana Initiative is implementing a project to eradicate child marriage.
The project is funded by a United Nation (UN Women). Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence.
Particularly in poorer rural areas, girls are often committed to an arranged marriage without their knowledge or consent. A resident of Bahi Dodoma region, Ms Jema Machela said some parents considered to be a main cause of early / child marriage.
Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. Parents often feel that a young girl is an economic burden and therefore wish to marry off their young daughters before they become an economic liability.
According to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal 5.3 directs all member states to eliminate child marriage by year 2030.
According to research conducted by the World Bank and published in their January 2019 Tanzania Economic update, data from Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) conducted by the national Bureau of Statistics in 2015- 16, Tanzania has made progress reducing child marriage.
Three out of ten 18–22, yearold women (32 per cent) in Tanzania were married before the age of 18, down from four out of ten (41 per cent) among women aged 41-49.
According to the World Bank Economic Update Jan 2019 using TDHS data from 2015-2016, Almost 99 per cent married girls aged 15-19 in Tanzania are not in school, leaving 1 per cent who do not attend school, among the same age who are not married, close to half 45 per cent attend school.
The economic benefits of ending child marriage in Tanzania in terms of welfare gains from lower populations growth is large, by 2030 it could reach ($5bn), according World Bank Tanzania Economic Update Jan 2019 and economic Impact of Child Marriage.
Global synthesis report ICRW and World Bank (2017) According to Ms Gyumi said they are proud as an organization to be able to use the platform for the amendment of the law, and also appreciate the judgement of the Court of Appeal of Tanzania.
Clearly, the government has assured to implement the High Court and the Court of Appeals’ decisions to amend the Marriage Act to allow a girl to get married at the age of 18.
Responding to a question in Parliament recently, Deputy Minister for Constitution and Legal Affairs Geofrey Pinda said that the government was going on with the process of engaging other stakeholders.
The decision to refer the Bill back to the government was due to the sensitivity of the matter itself. He therefore informed the House that once the government completes the procedures as was previously directed the Bill will be submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on Constitution and Legal Affairs and then presented to the Parliament for enactment, as a law.
The question was asked by Salma Kikwete (Mchinga- CCM) on behalf of Zainab Katimba (Special Seats-CCM), who wanted to know when the government would present the Bill to amend some provisions under the Law of Marriage Act relating to the marriage of girls under the age of 18.
Earlier, the deputy minister commended the MP for her efforts to make close follow up on the amendment of the Marriage Act.
He recalled that the Bill for amendment of the Act was referred to the Parliamentary Committee in February, 2021 following the decision of the Court of Appeal in a civil appeal lodged by the Attorney General against Rebecca Gyumi, Appeal No.204/2017 and case No.5/2016 before the High Court.
On October 23, 2019, the Court of Appeal confirmed the High Court’s decision, nullifying some provisions under the Law of Marriage Act (LMA) that allow girls below the age of 18 years to get married.
On her part, a Young Women Leader, Programme Officer from Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network, (TECMN), Ms Euphomia Edward commented that Child marriage deprives girls of education and economic opportunities, and puts their health and safety at risk.
She said the solution is not to condemn all traditions, but to work with communities to change traditions from within. “Educating girls saves lives and builds stronger families, communities and economies.
An educated female population increases a country’s productivity and fuels economic growth,’ she said.
Recently, according to the network, the Deputy Speaker, Tulia Ackson urged the TECMN to continue with the campaign on the importance of continuing the fight against child marriage by educating the community to abandon oppressive traditions and also to strengthen the provision of reproductive health education to young people, especially girls.
On his part, Reverend Harold Mkaro, from Shinyanga region, says during the marriage teaching they assured the bride and groom are both above 18 before a religious wedding, promote progressive interpretation of religious texts, and help people understand that their religion does not condone child marriage “During marriage teaching I make sure the girl is over 21 years old and investing in girls is very important, if they are educated and empowered to provide support for themselves and communities.,” he said.
Rev Mkaro said they have been using community forums and engaging young people both girls and boys to educate them on the role of the girl child and say no to child marriage.
The African Charter on Human and People ‘s rights protocol on the rights of Women (2003), states that men and women should be equal partners in a marriage, and both parties must have given informed consent which can only be provided by adults, over the age of 18 years.
For instance, Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s and face higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries, such as obstetric fistula Child brides are often unable to negotiate safer sexual practices and are therefore at a higher risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.