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Tanzania: Landmark ruling against child marriage upheld

A young girl holding a sign

In October 2019 the Tanzania Court of Appeal upheld the landmark 2016 ruling by the High Court against child marriage. 

“We’re very happy with the judgment from the Court of Appeal which has retained the High Court’s 2016 decision that increased the minimum age of marriage to 18. The government now 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.”

Jean Paul Murunga, Programme Officer, End Harmful Practices 

Child marriage is a human rights violation that harms girls and women, along with their families and communities. 

How common is child marriage in Tanzania?

Over 30% of girls in Tanzania are married before their 18th birthday. According to UNICEF, Tanzania has the 11th highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 779,000.

Hasn’t Tanzania committed to protecting girls from this human rights violation? 

Yes. It’s in the Constitution. 

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.”

The Government of Tanzania is bound by this to uphold the rights of women and girls. This includes the right of girls not to be married whilst they are still a child. 

In Tanzania, the minimum age for boys to marry is 18 years as set by The Law of Marriage Act 1971, but for girls, it is 14 with the consent of the court, and at the age of 15 with parental consent. This is not equal protection.  

A landmark ruling delivering “equal protection under the law”

In 2016, Rebeca Gyumi, Director of our partner Msichana Initiative, brought a case challenging the constitutionality of child marriage in Tanzania, and demanding the government give girls equal protection under the law. 

The High Court ruled that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal and directed the government to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls within one year.

However, the Attorney General of the State appealed against the ruling. The State’s appeal was based on the claim that the disparity in the minimum age of marriage is a compromise to accommodate customary, traditional, and religious values on marriage. But we believe the right to culture and freedom of religion can not limit the fundamental right to equality and non-discrimination.  

Defending the landmark ruling against child marriage in Tanzania  

In October 2019 the Tanzania Court of Appeal upheld the landmark 2016 ruling. Read the full judgment from the Court of Appeal here

We as Equality Now, along with our partners Msichana Initiative, Legal Human Rights Centre, and Tanzania Women Lawyers Association continue to call on the Government of Tanzania to amend sections 13 and 17 of the Marriage Act to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 with no exceptions.  

A child is not a wife. No exceptions. 

With your support, we can hold governments accountable for failing to protect women and girls, defend laws that protect girls from human rights abuses such as child marriage and strengthen efforts to advocate for 18 as the global minimum age of marriage.