SEATTLE — Child marriage in Tanzania has affected countless children; but now, progress in Tanzania’s laws creates hope that the absence of child marriage will change numerous lives for the better. Tanzania recently outlawed its 1971 Marriage Act that allowed young girls to marry well before they reached adulthood. This ban comes as part of a global movement to end child marriage.
An Outdated Act Meets Waves of Opposition
Under the 1971 Marriage Act, girls in Tanzania could be married as young as 14 years old with a court’s permission and 15 years old with parental consent. On July 8, the Tanzanian government found the practice to be unconstitutional as it denies the rights to equality, dignity, and access to education so granted within the nation’s constitution.
As part of the Sub-Saharan region, Tanzania has among the highest global child marriage rates globally. Data on child marriage in Tanzania shows 37 percent of girls are married under the age of 18. Additional data shows that girls from rural areas marry as young as 11 years old.
In August 2014, a national campaign titled “Child Marriage-Free Zone” launched against the practice. The campaign was led by a multitude of organizations: the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Tanzania, the Ministry of Community Development, Gender, and Children and other activist groups.
Msichana Initiative, a girls’ education advocacy organization, filed the case against child marriage earlier this year, arguing its unconstitutionality. The ruling deemed child marriage in Tanzania illegal and punishable under law. The decision came shortly after the government declared all marriages to primary- and secondary-school girls punishable by law with up to 30 years in prison.
The case reflects a broader movement to outlaw child marriage and promotes the rights of young women. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been monitoring child marriage globally and recently published a report on the practice in Tanzania.
Poverty and Child Marriage Go Hand-in-Hand
The report cites motivating circumstances for child marriage, with poverty being a central factor. Impoverished families can be influenced to allow girls to marry by the promise of a dowry payment. Economic disadvantages commodify girls, who are seen as an economic burden to be traded by their families.
Child labor and abuse additionally influence the tragedy of child marriage. The World Bank found a positive correlation between child labor and child marriage. Further, abuse and sexual exploitation in the workplace can cause girls to see marriage as an escape from their suffering.
HRW also attributes child marriage to a lack of access to education. Families may fear that children who are not in school will become pregnant before marriage and shame the family, and so encourage their children to marry young.
Child marriage is not only influenced by poverty but also perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Girls who marry young often face health complications as a result of becoming pregnant too soon and too often. Additionally, married or pregnant women are not allowed to attend school in Tanzania, infringing on girls’ right to an education.
Child Marriage on a Global Scale
The practice of child marriage is not limited to Tanzania. Within the next decade, the UNFPA predicts that 14.2 million girls under the age of 18 will be married annually. Internationally speaking, this jolting estimation will consequently result in the daily execution of 39,000 marriages. Not to mention that child marriage prevents the achievement of six of the Millennium Development Goals, which include the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.
Criminalizing child marriage in Tanzania has significantly progressed the global fight to end this unethical practice. Multiple organizations like UNFPA and HRW continue to emphasize the importance of community engagement in the agenda to make child marriage an occurrence of the past. With significant international cooperation, millions of children could see a future unaffected by child marriage.
– Anna O’Toole