This blog has been covering an ongoing case in the Court of Appeal of Tanzania: A campaigner named Rebecca Gyumi has taken on the government and is arguing that the country’s Law of Marriage Act which permits girls as young as 14 to get married should be repealed. So, what are some of the arguments against child marriage in the context of Tanzania’s Law of Marriage Act?
- It is discriminatory—Tanzania’s Constitution prohibits discrimination on any basis. By allowing girls to get married at a younger age than boys, Tanzania’s government effectively permits discrimination between boys and girls and thereby breaches its own Constitution. Previous decisions by courts in Tanzania have ruled against discriminatory practices: In one instance, a woman who inherited and later sold land from her husband after he passed away was sued by a member of the deceased husband’s extended family on the basis that she was not entitled to sell the land because she was a woman.
In that case, the court invoked a number of international human rights obligations to which Tanzania was a party and concluded that…the customary law under discussion flies in the face of our Bill of Rights as well as the international conventions to which we are signatories.
- Risks to health and wellbeing of girls—The Tanzania Ministry of Health’s March 2017 document “Child Marriage at a Glance”, states that poverty, socio-cultural norms and traditions, gender discrimination and reputational risk all contribute to child marriage; that child marriages lead to lost educational and career opportunities; contracting HIV or STIs; psychological distress; economic insecurity and continued poverty; lack of autonomy; sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse, verbal abuse; infant mortality; maternal mortality; miscarriage and teenage pregnancy. On top of this, a Demographic Health Survey of 2015-16 estimated that 37 per cent of girls in Tanzania are married before they reach 18 years of age.
- Looking beyond Tanzania itself, UNICEF and other organisations have warned of the dangers of the practice. According to UNICEF:
Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for girls between ages 15 and 19. And babies born to mothers under age 20 are 1.5 times more likely to die during the first 28 days than babies born to mothers in their twenties or thirties.
- According to the organisation Girls Not Bride, girls who attend secondary school are three times less likely to be child brides; girls who are married as children earn 9% less money than as adults; and by ending child marriage, governments in 18 sample countries could save up to $17 billion per year by 2030.
There are therefore persuasive arguments for the government of Tanzania to end child marriage both from a rule of law and human rights point of view but also due the many health and economic benefits in it for the girls and the communities they belong to. What’s clear is that confronting child marriage requires an approach that acknowledges the complex traditional practices which are often complicated by poverty. Despite this, a multi-pronged approach that encourages education for girls up to the age of 18; is sensitive but boldly challenges harmful traditional practices and raises awareness of the rights to equality of girls will go a long way in combating this scourge.