By Human Rights Watch Press
Published October 29, 2014

tanzania child marriage mapChild marriage in Tanzania limits girls’ access to education and exposes them to serious harm, a human rights watch dog says.

In a report released in Nairobi, the Kenyan commercial and political capital on October 29, 2014, Human Rights Watch documents cases in which girls as young as seven were married off. HRW calls upon Tanzanian authorities to set the minimum marriage age for girls and boys as a first step toward eradicating child marriage and improving the lives of girls and women.

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The 75-page report, No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania, documents how child marriage curtails girls’ access to education, and exposes them to exploitation, violence and reproductive health risks.

“Tanzania’s draft Constitution provides no minimum age for marriage,” says Brenda Akia, women’s rights research fellow at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Tanzanian government should show leadership on child marriage by making 18 the minimum age in the Marriage Act and providing stronger protections against child marriage.”

The Human Rights Watch report is said to be based on in-depth interviews with 135 girls and women in 12 districts in Tanzania, as well as with government officials, local activists, and international agency personnel.

Tanzania’s Marriage Act of 1971 sets the minimum age at 18 for boys and 15 for girls with parental consent. It also permits both girls and boys to marry at 14 with a court’s permission. The Constituent Assembly, tasked with writing a new constitution, missed an opportunity to include a uniform minimum marriage age in its October 2014 final draft, HRW says.

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Although child marriage rates in Tanzania have decreased in recent years, they remain unacceptably high; 40% of Tanzanian women marry before turning 18, according to government statistics.

Child Marriage in TanzaniaA 19-year-old woman tells HRW that her father forced her to marry at 16, during her second year of secondary school. “My father said he did not have money to support my schooling.I then discovered that he had already received 20 cows as dowry for me.”

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On the other hand, HRW quotes a 14-year-old girl who was working as a domestic worker that she married to escape abuse and exploitation by her employer.

“A houseboy in the house I was working in asked me to marry him. I agreed because I saw marriage as my only option to escape mistreatment from my boss,” she is quoted as having said.

Girls told Human Rights Watch that their families forced them to marry so they could either get dowry payments, because they did not value their daughters’ education, and/or because the girls were pregnant or their families feared that they would become pregnant and bring dishonour to the family. Other girls said they saw marriage as a way out of poverty, violence, neglect, or child labour.

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Discriminatory and vague government education policies and practices facilitate early marriages, undermining girls’ education and opportunities, Many Tanzanian schools have mandatory pregnancy testing. The government also allows schools to expel or exclude married students or students who commit offenses ‘against morality’, widely understood to include pre-marital sex or pregnancy.

tanzanian forced into marriage at 17 to a man 28 years her seniorChild marriage puts girls and women at greater risk of sexual and gender-based violence, Human Rights Watch said. Girls who rejected or tried to resist marriages said their families assaulted and verbally abused them or threw them out. Those unable to escape marriage said their husbands beat and raped them and did not allow them to make any decisions in their homes or about their lives.

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The government should work toward comprehensive reform of marriage and divorce laws and develop a national action plan to prevent and address the consequences of child marriage

“Child marriage has far-reaching negative impacts on girls and women,” Akia says. “Tanzania’s government should take immediate and long-term steps to end the practice, and give survivors much needed psychological, social, and economic support.”