CHILD marriage remains a global problem affecting 15 million girls, annually.
It severely limits the girls’ life choices and there is growing consensus within the international community that evil has far-reaching consequences for girls, their families and communities.
In 2014, the UN General Assembly resolved to have all member states passing and enforcing laws outlawing child marriage.
Some members have responded promptly by adopting new laws against child marriage. In Tanzania, the government contemplates repealing the 1971 Marriage Act, which permits girls to marry at 15 with parental consent or court approval. Tanzania is among the countries with the highest rates of child marriage, globally.
According to available statistics, 39 per cent of Tanzanian girls get married before they are 15 and 70 percent before the age of 18. In the past three decades, the country has made significant progress towards achieving gender equality in some important areas--nearly equal chances of entering secondary school between girls and boys, rural women’s improved access to income generating activities, thanks to training and support services from the government and other organisations.
Over the period, marriages of girls between 16 and 17 yearolds increased as those of girls below 15 declined. The present deliberations of the Tanzania government regarding child marriage law reflect the contradictory pressures that exist when addressing women and children’s rights in developing countries with patriarchal traditions.
We believe that the repeated attempts to amend the 1971 Marriage Act reflect a genuine concern by the government on the social challenges caused by child marriage and the laws governing that marriage.
The government is determined to revise the marriage legislation to check marriage of girls below 15. But, traditional patriarchal norms remain strong in rural Tanzania, with a family’s sense of ‘honour’ intimately tied to the perceived ‘purity’ of their daughters and brides.
It is the social setting where the reputation of unmarried adolescent girl needs to be carefully protected because its loss severely limits her life choices. For poor rural parents, early marriage presents itself as a pre-emptive solution to a perceived ‘crisis’ that may undermine the social position of their adolescent daughters.