In a landmark development, Tanzania has announced that men who impregnate or marry schoolgirls will face 30 years in prison as part of government commitment to fight and prevent child marriage. Parliament passed this new provision last month, which is meant to protect girls.
The country has one the highest child marriage prevalence rates in the world, and to eliminate the scourge, the government has resolved to take tougher measures in the form of lengthy jail terms to tackle child marriage and teenage pregnancy, to ensure girls can stay in school.
The provision stipulates that, “any person who impregnates a primary school or a secondary school girl commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term of thirty years”.
The provision also notes that aiding, abating or soliciting a primary or secondary school girl or a school boy to marry while pursuing primary or secondary education is an offence and on conviction, the offender is “liable to a fine of not less than five million shillings or to imprisonment for a term of five years or to both”.
Tanzania’s Law of Marriage Act (1971) permits boys to marry at 18 and allows the marriage of 15-year-old girls with parental permission. Girls (and boys) can marry at 14 with permission from a court.
Child marriage remains a huge problem in many African countries, with young girls being forced to drop out of school, which puts their future at risk. Unsurprisingly, in sub-Saharan Africa, about 40 percent of girls reportedly marry before the age of 18 and numerous countries have committed to ending child marriages (Zimbabwe and Malawi recently banned child marriages).
While there are various reasons, which perpetuate child marriage, rights campaigners have found that the practice is fuelled by, “intersections between gender discrimination and poverty; poor access to education and health services; customary practices; religious beliefs; and weak justice mechanisms”.
Although the new provision in Tanzania does not address the root causes of child marriage, such as poverty, it offers strong protection to the vulnerable and complements the government’s investments in education, particularly its free education policy. There is also need to strengthen advocacy programmes to change the perspective of citizens on the practice to ensure girls stay in schools.
The new provision is welcome and it is an important and commendable solution to fighting child marriage.
According to girls not brides, about 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year across the world.
Girls not brides says, “Child brides are often disempowered, dependent on their husbands and deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety. Neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers, child brides are at greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth”.