Tanzania: Child marriage ruling gives girls hope

Tanzania: Child marriage ruling gives girls hope

Date: January 14, 2020
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Dar es Salaam:, 4 December:Veronica Nchagwa is a 14-year old standard six girl in Tanzania. Despite being bright, she is likely to become a bride before she attains 18 years as her parents are planning to marry her off as soon as she finishes her Standard Seven education next year.

“My parents have already planned to marry me off after finishing standard seven,” she says in an interview with the ‘Daily News’ recently. At the back of her mind, the pupils’ academic journey would be cut down as she believes nothing for a miracle would turn the tables in her favor.

“I’m just waiting for the day to come because I cannot be able to oppose my parents plan,” says Nchagwa though wishing for a miracle could happen, and let her parents allow her pursue her education to university in order to chase her dream.

“Since I was young, I wished I could become a journalist so that I could speak for others to raise up their voices especially young people and children, but I can no longer dream about it anymore as my parents have planned to marry me off soon” she says.

However, Nchagwa and the rest of the girls in Tanzania have all cause to celebrate, thanks to the  Tanzania Court of Appeal for upholding a landmark 2016 ruling by the High Court against child marriage.

The landmark verdict in Dar es Salaam by Justices Augustine Mwarija, Winfrida Korosso and Mary Lavira sets the official marriage age for both girls and boys at 18 years.

Tanzania’s High Court ruled that two sections of the 1971 Marriage Act that allow girls to marry at 15 with parental consent and 14 with the permission of a court, were unconstitutional.

The court thus ordered the government to amend the Marriage Act within the next year and ruled that the legal marriage age for girls and boys should be recognized as 18 years.

The ruling was made in response to a petition file by Rebecca Gyumi, founder of Msichana Initiative, a local charity promoting girls’ rights.

The group argued that the Marriage Act violated girls’ rights to equality, dignity and access to education as granted by the constitution.

“The victory should be taken as a beginning of a fresh battle to ensure that child marriage becomes history in our country,” she says.

Commenting over the ruling several girls applauded the move calling for public awareness in order to educate parents the need for ensuring the rights of girls are upheld as stated in the ruling.

“Our parents should be educated and be informed about the ruling that the high court has issued so that they can stop from marrying and instead provide as with chances to go to school and lean to achieve our dreams,” says Venedate Hilda, a 13-year old girl and a standard five girl in Kitunda area, Dar es Salaam.

Lucy Mwita, a 15 year old girl calls for strict measures against parents who will plan and marry off their daughters under the age 18 of years.

“The government ought to state the measures it would take against parents who will not heed the ruling,” says Lucy, a mother of two who is now suffering the ordeal of being married at the age of 13.

“My parents pulled me out of school while I was in standard three, claiming that our cultural ways required me to get married so that my brother could get schools fees through my dowry,” she says.

She however regrets over the delay of the ruling that now if the law is amended would help save millions of girls who are currently subjected to early marriages.

“I wish the ruling came before I got married, I would have demanded for my right to education knowing that the law defends me and saves in my four, but it is unfortunate,” she regrets.

According to the 2015/16 Health Survey by the National Bureau of Statistics Tanzania (NBS), 12 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 have given birth.

Over 30 per cent of girls in Tanzania are married before their 18th birthday. According to activists say ending child marriage hinges on raising more awareness about its impact on girls.

Human Rights Advocate Jean Paul Murunga, says the government through the ruling has a chance to ensure that the Law of Marriage Act is amended to reflect the minimum age of marriage ruling.

“We are ready to work with other civil society organizations in Tanzania as well as the government to ensure the necessary reforms and policy changes are initiated so that girls in Tanzania are able to enjoy their education, rights and freedoms from the abuse of child marriage.” he says

The former Legal and Human Rights Center Executive Director Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba urges for public awareness and change the perceptions that girls are an economic burden on their families or commodity to be traded for bride price.

On the other hand, the Executive Director of Msichana Initiative Ms Rebbeca Gyum urges for making of and endorses a bill of the ruled law in order to give equal opportunities to girls and boys.

“We are doing various activities to ensure the parliament passes a bill in order towards the amendment of the law,” she says.

The court ordered the government to amend the marriage Act within the next year and that ruled that the legal marriage age for men and women should be recognized as 18 years.

The Attorney General (AG), Prof Adelardus Kilangi told the ‘Daily News’ over the phone that the government is meditating on how to handle the matter as disparity in the minimum age of marriage is a compromise to accommodate customary, traditional and religious values on marriage.

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

Tanzania has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The country also co-sponsored the 2013 and 2014 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and signed a joint statement at the 2014 Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.

It also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

In 2007 Tanzania ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which includes an Article related to equal and free consent in marriage.

In 2003 Tanzania ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.

Tanzania is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.

At the Girl Summit in July 2014, the Government of Tanzania signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.

During its 2016 Universal Periodic Review, Tanzania supported recommendations to accelerate efforts to end child marriage.

It is thus important for the government to amend the marriage law and necessary reforms policy so that girls in Tanzania are able to enjoy their right to education and freedom from abuse of child marriages.

Anne Robi is a journalist at Daily News in Tanzania . Photoo courtesy of Msichana Initiative. This story is part of the GL 16 Days SRHR News Service

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