Activists won a years-long battle with the Tanzanian government Wednesday when the Court of Appeal of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam rejected an appeal by the government to allow the marriage of a child under the age of 18.
This ruling means that child marriage is officially considered unconstitutional — and illegal — across the country.
The organization Equality Now worked with partner organizations to protect young girls from entering child marriages.
"While we received this news with joy, we are aware of the enormous work that lies ahead because we need to work very closely with the government in ensuring that they implement this judgment," Jean Paul Murunga, a program officer with Equality Now's End Harmful Practices team, said in a statement released to Global Citizen.
Child marriage laws in Tanzania have not historically provided equal protection. The Law of Marriage Act 1971 set the minimum age for boys to marry at 18 years old, but Sections 13 and 17 allowed girls to marry at 14 with the consent of the court, and at 15 with parental consent.
"It is vital to have the right laws, policies, and practices in place to protect girls from child 'marriage,'" Murunga said.
Rebecca Gyumi, director of Msichana Initiative, an organization advocating for girls’ right to education, brought a case to court challenging the constitutionality of child marriage in Tanzania in 2016. Gyumi demanded the government give girls equal protection under the law.
TODAY the #Tanzania Court of Appeal upheld the landmark 2016 ruling by the High Court 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.#EndChildMarriage#AChildIsNotAWifepic.twitter.com/DfmpsyHR4B— equalitynow (@equalitynow) October 23, 2019
The High Court ruled that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal and directed the government to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys within one year. But the Attorney General of the State appealed the ruling in 2017.
When young girls enter child marriages, they are less likely to finish secondary school. Child brides who stop attending school are more likely to experience early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications. Child marriage also makes it more difficult for women and their families to break out of the cycle of poverty.
"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, free from the range of human rights abuses that come hand-in-hand with child 'marriage,'" Murguna said.