Legal contradictions influence early marriage in Tanzania

By Timothy Adrathy

Tanzania has signed various treaties that protect women’s rights, such as the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW, 1979), the convention of Africa on women’s rights (2006), and the declaration on gender equality in all African countries.

Despite signing these treaties, Tanzanian law that has been enacted to implement them does not favour the right of women, particularly the marriage provisions which are subject to a lot of weaknesses in protecting women’s rights. For example, the Law of Marriage Act of 1971 states that marriage is accepted if a girl is above 18 years of age, while also stating that the marriage will be accepted if the girl is 15 years old, so long as there is consent from herself or her parents. The law recognizes that any person under the age of 18 is considered a child. Therefore, the Law of Marriage Act of 1971 contradicts with the Law of Sexual Offences Special Provision Act of 1998 which defines rape non-consensual sex with a girl who is under 18 years old. This empowers a man to marry a girl under 18 years of age, as the laws are weak to protect them otherwise.

According to the Tanzanian Media Women Association (TAMWA), Tanzania Women Lawyer Association (TAWLA), and the Tanzania Gender Network Program (TGNP) research in 2011and March of 2013 conducted in 10 districts in Tanzania discovered that 102 cases of early marriage were reported within one year about early marriage where by the leading region is Shinyanga at 59%, Tabora at 58%, Mbeya at 45%, Singida at 42%, and Dodoma at 51%.

This research found that in addition to the weaknesses of the law, traditional belief systems also impact the prevalence of marriage and involve ceremonies such as female genital mutilation (FGM), which is believed to prepare the girl to become mature enough for marriage even if she is not above 18 years old.

Ziada Nestory, from Mara region said that she was forced into marriage and to drop out of school, due to the fact that her parents could not afford her school fees and the man she was to marry was rich.

One of the most common issues caused by early marriage is birth complications and physical violations from their partners, because they are still young and they don’t know their rights.

The weakness of the Marriage Act and traditional beliefs also deny the right of women to own property because they enter into marriage at a young age. They lose their right to freedom of choice because some of them are being chosen by their husbands and by their parents to fulfill their economic needs which is against the United Republic of Tanzania’s Constitution Article (12) which ensures the right of equality. Early marriage compromises this right and violates women’s rights in Tanzania.

Timothy holds a B.A. in Mass Communication from St. Augustine University of Tanzania in Mwanza. Timothy plans to become a professional journalist who specializes in human rights stories. He is currently upgrading his skills in human rights reporting in Dar es Salaam.

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