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Dispatches: Tanzanian High Court Rules Against Child Marriage

In a Victory for Girls’ Rights, Marrying Age Raised to 18

As of today, it is illegal for girls or boys who are younger than 18 to marry in Tanzania.

In a landmark decision, the Tanzanian High Court ruled in favor of protecting girls from the harms of early marriage. The court ruled unconstitutional sections 13 and 17 of the Tanzania Law of Marriage Act, which allow girls to marry at age 15 with parental permission and at age 14 with the permission of a court. The decision represents a critical step forward in the struggle to end child marriage in Tanzania, which has one of the highest rates in the world.

Jacinta, 15, was excluded from school after authorities found out that she was pregnant. She said her teachers took her to a medical clinic to undergo a pregnancy test. She subsequently gave birth prematurely and her baby did not survive. August 5, 2014. © 2014 Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch has documented the direct life-long consequences for girls of child marriage in Tanzania. Girls face serious reproductive health problems resulting from becoming pregnant too early and very often. They also face a heightened risk of violence, including marital rape and domestic violence. Child marriage severely curtails girls’ access to education because schools and families prevent married girls from attending class. School officials are even allowed to expel married girls, and most girls do not access education programs once they drop out.

The case was filed earlier this year by the Msichana Initiative, an organization advocating for girls’ right to education in Tanzania. They argued that the Marriage Act violated girls’ essential rights to equality, dignity, and access to education, and contravened Tanzania’s Law of the Child Act.

The court ruling follows a series of new legal measures, adopted by the Tanzanian government, that make it a crime to attempt to marry school-going children under 18, as well as any “person who impregnates a primary school or a secondary school girl.”

While both measures are crucial steps forward, the government should put in place legal regimes and community mechanisms to protect girls at risk of child marriage and provide stronger protections for them. The government should also find practical solutions to ensure girls who have been forced to get married have full and equal access to education.

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