On 8th January 2018, the National Examination Council of Tanzania announced that girls had outperformed boys in the country’s 2017 equivalent of A-level exams with the top 10 performers all being girls and the top four performers at the GCSE equivalent being girls. Such results are a welcome rebuttal to the Tanzanian government’s position on child marriage. This blog recently reported on how the government in Tanzania is challenging a 2016 High Court ruling that the country’s Law of Marriage Act discriminates against girls by allowing boys to marry at 18 and girls at 14. In their appeal, the government put forward five arguments in support of child marriage, that:
- “girls and boys mature differently with girls maturing earlier than boys” and marriage was a necessary institution for girls who failed to complete their education and would likely engage in sexual activities;
- There should be a distinction between the age of marriage (14) and the age of a child (a child being defined as anyone under 18) as they sought to achieve different aims as reflected in the fact that a number of countries across the world permitted child marriage;
- The current law and the ages stipulated there was the product of various religious and customary practices of Tanzania; court rulings defying customary law and touching on the country’s religious and cultural beliefs would result in chaos if not handled delicately;
- The government had put in place other legislative provisions to safeguard the interests of the girl child such as outlawing premarital sex and creating the offence of statutory rape and prohibiting marrying or impregnating girls of primary or secondary school going age;
- The court should have given the government time to comply with the court’s ruling and amend the law rather than declare it null and void.
The government’s appeal is yet to be heard and this blog will feature a subsequent article on the main arguments against child marriage.
For now, it is worth paying attention to the Tanzanian government’s arguments for child marriage specifically the idea that the law is wedded to the country’s complex religious, cultural and customary practices which cannot simply be banned without an effective way of enforcing the changes in rural areas and winning over the hearts and minds of those with traditional views on child marriage.
Further, the government’s argument that a number of countries across the world, including the USA and Australia allow child marriage is persuasive. Any arguments against the practice in Tanzania should not be couched in a patronising manner that depicts Tanzania as a backwards country holding back girls. It is not the only country that permits this practice.
Crucially, the education stats referred to above are a particularly powerful argument for why the law should protect and encourage girls to stay in school. It is regrettable that in its current form, the law in Tanzania makes it easier for girls to opt for child marriage particularly when they fail exams or fall pregnant.
Legislation: Sections 13 and 17 of the Tanzania Law of Marriage Act 1971.
Cases: Rebeca Z. Gyumi v. Attorney General, Miscellaneous Civil Cause No 5 of 2016; Mudzuru & Another v Ministry of Justice, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs(Const. Application No. 79/14, CC 12-15)  ZWCC 12 (20 January 2016)