Government urged to review outdated marriage law

Iringa. During a recent discussion marking the International Day of the Girl Child, observed every October 11th, the Children’s Council of Tanzania passionately appealed to the government and other stakeholders to re-evaluate the 1971 Marriage Act. The law currently allows girls as young as 15 to be married with their parents’ consent, and at the age of 14 with court approval.

Genoveva Mwakihwaja, a Form One student at Harrison Uwata Girls Secondary School, who is the vice chairperson of the Children’s Council of Tanzania, spoke earnestly about the aspirations of countless girls. She emphasised the importance of preventing early marriages to ensure that these dreams can be realised.

Mwakihwaja posed a critical question: If a child cannot obtain a driver’s license or engage in strenuous labour before the age of 18, why should the 1971 marriage law permit them to marry below that age?

Observed at the national level in Iringa Region, the 2023 International Day of the Girl Child, organized by the Tanzania Police Women’s Network (TPF-NET) in partnership with multiple stakeholders, such as SOS Children’s Village Tanzania and World Vision Tanzania, emphasized the pressing need to tackle child marriage issues and advance gender equality.

Mwakihwaja stressed that the responsibility now rests with the parliamentarians of the United Republic of Tanzania to amend the outdated 1971 Marriage Act, specifically focusing on articles 13 and 17. These articles currently allow girls as young as 14 to marry with court approval and the consent of their parents and the government at the age of 15. It is time to align these laws with this year’s theme, Invest in Girls’ Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-Being.

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The 13-year-old student (Mwakihwaja) is a remarkable advocate for change, having been recognised as the first winner of an essay competition against child marriage and pregnancy organized by World Vision Tanzania.

World Vision Tanzania, according to its Iringa Regional Manager, Mr Vincent Kasuga, continues to play a significant role in the fight against early marriage and teenage pregnancy. The institution’s goal is to empower and protect the girl child from the adverse effects of these practices.

A fundamental part of World Vision Tanzania’s initiative involves giving children the opportunity to express their opinions on reducing and eliminating child marriage and pregnancy. This approach not only raises awareness but also educates society about the detrimental consequences of teen pregnancy and child marriage.

World Vision Tanzania operates in 16 regions to improve the lives of children, particularly girls, and their communities through various programmes.

Victor Mwaipungu, Iringa regional manager of the Children with Children (CwC) project under SOS Children’s Villages Tanzania, says the project aims to support girls who had babies at a young age, especially those aged 19 and below.

The three-year project, which began in 2021 and concludes in December 2023 with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, focuses on two key areas: response and prevention. In the prevention aspect, the project aims to reach 15,000 young people across Iringa Region to prevent early pregnancies among girls in school.

Through peer education training in 18 schools under the project, CwC has successfully reached 17,000 young people, resulting in a significant reduction in teenage pregnancy incidents from 40 per year to just six in the assessed schools. These efforts have made a significant difference in the schools where the programme was implemented.

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Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Mary Nziku, who is the head of the Gender and Children’s Desk in Tanzania emphasized the vital role of the gender desk within the police force. This unit, established in all police stations across the country, specifically deals with issues related to gender violence and violence against children. The formation of the gender desk was an outcome of the Women Police Network’s efforts, founded in 2018.

Unfortunately, Ms Nziku shared some alarming statistics from 2021 and 2022 regarding violence against young girls, including high numbers of rape cases, defilement offenses, and child abandonment incidents. These statistics highlight the urgent need to protect and empower Tanzanian girls.

It is essential to ensure the protection and empowerment of girls. The call to amend the 1971 Marriage Act is a step in the right direction. During this year’s International Day of the Girl Child celebrations, stakeholders who attended the Iringa event said we must all pledge our support to these causes and work collectively to create a safer and more equitable environment for girls. They said it’s time to invest in the girls’ rights, for they are the key to our nation’s prosperity.