Tanzania: Landmark ruling against child "marriage" at risk

Tanzania: Landmark ruling against child "marriage" at risk

Child “marriage” is a human rights violation that harms girls and women, along with their families and communities. Despite global commitments to protect girls, we once again find ourselves defending hard won victories.  

Next week our partners in Tanzania will be in court to defend a landmark ruling, aimed at protecting girls from child “marriage” across Tanzania.   

How common is child “marriage” in Tanzania?

Over 30% of girls in Tanzania are married before their 18th birthday. According to UNICEF, Tanzania has the 11th highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 779,000.

Hasn’t Tanzania committed to protecting girls from this human rights violation? 

Yes. It’s in the Constitution. 

Article 13 of the Tanzanian Consitution states that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled, without any discrimination, to protection and equality before the law.”

The Government of Tanzania is bound by this to uphold the rights of women and girls. This includes the right of girls not to be married whilst they are still a child. 

In Tanzania, the minimum age for boys to marry is 18 years as set by The Law of Marriage Act 1971, but for girls it is 14 with consent of the court, and at the age of 15 with parental consent. This is not equal protection.  

A landmark ruling delivering “equal protection under the law”

In 2016, Rebeca Gyumi, Director of our partner Msichana Initiative, brought a case challenging the constitutionality of child “marriage” in Tanzania, and demanding the government give girls equal protection under the law. 

The High Court ruled that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal and directed the government to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls within one year.

However, the Attorney General of the State appealed against the ruling. 

Defending the landmark ruling against child “marriage” in Tanzania  

On Wednesday 24th July, the Court of Appeal in Tanzania will hear the appeal by the Attorney General. The State’s appeal is 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. But we believe the right to culture and freedom of religion can not limit the fundamental right to equality and non-discrimination.  

We as Equality Now, along with our partners Msichana Initiative, Legal Human Rights Centre and Tanzania Women Lawyers Association, are defending the ruling that was issued by the High Court in Tanzania and continue to call on the Government of Tanzania to amend sections 13 and 17 of the Marriage Act to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 with no exceptions.  

A child is not a wife. No exceptions. 

With your support, we can hold governments accountable for failing to protect women and girls, defend laws that protect girls from human rights abuses such as child “marriage” and strengthen efforts to advocate for 18 as the global minimum age of marriage. 

Share your message of solidarity with girls across Tanzania on Twitter and Facebook