Tanzania: Legal provision that allows girls to marry at 14 unconstitutional

An important legal milestone in the fight against child marriage in Tanzania: the High Court has ruled that the legal age for girls to marry should be increased to 18 years, consistent with the legal minimum age for boys to get married. In the ruling, the Tanzanian Government has been given one year to rectify the discriminating provision in the Marriage Act. The case at the High Court was filed by one of Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ associates in Tanzania, the Msichana Initiative.

Child abuse / Child marriages

Discrimination of girls in Marriage Act

According to Tanzania’s Marriage Act from 1971, girls can get married at the age of 15 with their parent’s permission, and even at the age of 14 after court approval. For boys the legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years. 
The local advocacy organisation Msichana Initiative, had filed the case at the High Court arguing that these provisions are discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional, since the Tanzanian Constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender.

Child marriage in Tanzania

Terre des Hommes Netherlands cooperates with Msichana Initiative in advocating for legal reforms to fight child marriage.  Almost two out of five women (37%) are married before their eighteenth birthday in Tanzania. Terre des Hommes Netherlands works in Shinyanga region, which, at 59%, has the highest child marriage prevalence of the country. Both Terre des Hommes Netherlands and Agape, our local partner in Shinyanga, were present at the High Court ruling.

Human rights violations

Terre des Hommes Netherlands believes that child marriage constitutes a serious violation of the human rights of victims, including their right to safety, health and education.
Child marriage exposes child brides to violence, including marital rape, sexual and domestic violence and emotional abuse. Child marriage means early sexual debut often resulting in early pregnancy, at an age when girls are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become mothers. Child birth at an early age often leads to serious health complications for both mother and child. Child marriage is both a cause and a consequence of school drop-out, resulting in limited wage-earning prospects for child brides, as well as limited ability and confidence to make informed decisions about their own life.

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