High Court of Tanzania Delivers Judgment Declaring That the Minimum Age for Marriage Unfairly Discriminates Against Girls

In a landmark decision, the High Court of Tanzania ruled today that the Law of Marriages Act must be revised to eliminate inequality between the minimum age for marriages for boys and for girls. The Act allows girls to marry at the age of fourteen with the consent of the court, and from the age of fifteen with the consent of their parents, while the minimum age of marriage for boys is set at eighteen years. Girls who leave school early to get married often struggle to enforce their other constitutionally protected rights.

“The High Court judgment is a significant victory for the rights of children in Tanzania,” said Nyasha Chingore, a lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which followed the case. “This ruling sends a clear message neither religion nor custom can be used as an excuse to violate children’s rights”. The law has failed the girl child in the past but this judgment illustrates a commitment to the eradication of practice that hinder girls’ development and the realisation of their constitutional rights.”

The precedent-setting case was launched by Rebeca Z Gyumi, who is the director of the Msichana Initiative. The Initiative advocates for the rights of women and girls and believes that the persistence of child marriages is a threat to this already vulnerable group. “Allowing parents to marry off their daughters before they are eighteen hinders girls’ ability to finish their education. This prevents girls from fully expressing themselves in other spheres of life.” Said Gyumi. Gyumi successfully argued that laws that expose girls to pregnancy and family responsibilities at such a young age strip them of their dignity and are, as such, discriminatory.

Allowing the court and parents to consent to girls’ marriages before the girls have reached the age of eighteen further perpetuates the patriarchy as it ensures that girls cannot access the same opportunities that are afforded to boys. While boys are allowed to enjoy their teenage years, parents can force girls to grow up long before they are ready.

The Court dismissed the state’s claims that child marriages are an important part of cultural law, and instead pointed out that while the Law of Marriages Act may have been enacted with good intentions in 1971, this intention is no longer relevant because the effect of the Act now is to discriminate against girls by depriving them of opportunities that are vital for all citizens.

Further info:
Rebeca Z Gyumi, Msichana Initiative Director: Cell +255 762 758 281, gyumirebeca@gmail.com
Nyasha Chingore, SALC Programme Lawyer: Cell +27 72 563 5855; NyashaC@salc.org.za