On Wednesday, Tanzania’s Court of Appeal quashed the government appeal seeking to overturn the landmark 2016 High Court ruling that banned marriage for both boys and girls under the age of 18.
In a highly contested move, the government had appealed against raising the minimum age of marriage from 14 to 18 – specifically for girls.
“The ruling signifies great progress towards the protection of girls in Tanzania. It emphasises Tanzania’s position in fulfilling its regional and international obligations,” said Ms. Rebeca Gyumi, noted Tanzanian human rights advocate whose petition resulted in the 2016 High Court decision.
Plan International has worked closely with Ms Gyumi in the campaign to end child marriage in Tanzania.
Girls can dream big
“Today’s decision means girls who are currently in Tanzania and the ones who are going to be born in the future can dream big and unleash their potential without relooking at their gender as a limitation to who they can be or what they can do,” said Ms Gyumi who won the 2018 UN International Human Rights Prize for her campaign against child marriage in Tanzania.
Today’s decision means girls can dream big and unleash their potential.
“The government must now fulfil its obligation by enforcing the court’s ruling and ultimately changing the law,” she added.
Child marriage is a human rights violation. It stands in the way of girls’ right to a consensual marriage, as well as their right to education, protection, economic engagement and reproductive health care.
According to the Tanzania National Demographic and Health Survey of 2015-16, 2 in 5 girls marry before 18. According to UNICEF, Tanzania has the 11th highest number of child brides in the world.
Historic day for girls’ rights
“It’s a historic day for girls’ rights in Tanzania which has among the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Generations of girls have lost their futures due to the scourge of child marriage,” said Dr. Mona Girgis, Country Director of Plan International Tanzania.
“Child marriage negatively impacts girls’ lives in a multitude of ways. It robs them not only of their rights, but also of their childhood. A girl who is married before 18 is more likely to drop out of school, become a mother, die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and be trapped in a lifetime of poverty. She is also more likely to face domestic and sexual violence.”
In 2016, Ms. Gyumi, filed a petition with the country’s High Court demanding the Government of Tanzania amend the Law of the Marriage Act of 1971 section 13 and 17 that allows girls to get married from the age of 14. The High Court ruled that all marriages under 18 were illegal and unconstitutional, directing the government to increase the minimum age of marriage within a year.
However, the Attorney General of the State appealed against the ruling based on the claim that the disparity in the minimum age of marriage is a compromise to accommodate customary, traditional and religious values on marriage.
Working to end child marriage
Plan International Tanzania is an active member of the Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network. The organisation, which works closely with partners and with support from donors, seeks to empower girls and communities to address social norms that contribute to child marriage. The work also includes strengthening child protection systems in prevention and response services, economic empowerment of young women and improving household economic security.
“Plan International will continue working in partnership with the government, civil society organisations, communities and Tanzanian girls in changing perceptions, social norms and attitudes that promote child marriage in Tanzania,” said Dr Girgis.