Tanzania’s Court of Appeal has recently upheld the 2016 High Court ruling that the country’s Marriage Act of 1971 is unconstitutional. In a landmark 2016 decision, the court directed the government to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 years for both girls and boys.
The High Court’s decision followed a legal challenge by the Msichana Initiative, an organization advocating for girls’ right to education in Tanzania, which 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 Tanzania government appealed the decision.
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.
According to the United Nation’s estimate, Tanzania three out of ten girls are married before their 18th birthday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented the devastating lifelong consequences for girls of child marriage, including its impacts on girls’ health when they become pregnant at a very young age, the increased risks of domestic violence including marital rape, and how marriage and pregnancy ends their education.
The Tanzanian government has legal obligations to outlaw child marriage and end the harm suffered by girls. Having a strong law that provides for a standard minimum marriage age for boys and girls is a good starting point, said HRW in a statement.
Education is a key protection measure against underage marriages, and Tanzania should also end longstanding discrimination against girls in education, including by ensuring girls who become pregnant can continue their studies, and address widespread violence in schools, said the rights group.
HRW further emphasized it is important for the government to engage communities on the importance of keeping girls in school and not marrying them off in their childhood. With these steps, girls in Tanzania can have the future they deserve, and be girls, not wives. (Source: HRW)