Photo credit: DFID
Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
Tanzania has the 11th highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world – 776,000.
4% of boys in Tanzania are married before the age of 18.
In rural areas on the border with Kenya, some girls reportedly marry as young as 11.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.
In Tanzania, child marriage is exacerbated by:
- Poverty: Poverty is considered a leading driver of child marriage in Tanzania. Marriage is perceived to protect a girl against poverty and provide a reprieve for the family. Mahari – “bride price” – involves a husband giving money, cattle or clothing to a bride’s family. With little opportunities to earn an income for themselves, girls often see marriage as their only option.
- Family honour: Pre-marital sex is often considered a taboo which undermines family honour and decreases the amount of dowry a girl can fetch when married. Some girls who are considered to be micharuko – “running around with men” – are forced into marriage to avoid bringing shame to families.
- Adolescent pregnancy: By 2016 one in four Tanzanian adolescents aged 15-19 had begun childbearing. Society disapproves of pregnancy outside marriage, and parents tend to marry off a daughter if she is found pregnant. Girls are routinely tested for pregnancy in school, and pregnant girls are banned from re-entering school.
- Country-specific practices: The practice of Nyumba ntobu involves an older, wealthier woman paying bride price for a young girl to become her wife. A man is then chosen to impregnate the girl and any children who are born belong to the older woman. According to a UN Women 2018 report, in some communities of the Shinyanga region, the practice of abduction, rape and forced marriages of young girls is very common. This practices is known with the term kupura.
- Level of education: The Government’s Primary School Leaving Examination determines which students can go onto secondary school. Human Rights Watch argues that girls who fail the exam face little choice but to marry.
- Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is linked to a desire to control female sexuality and is seen by many communities as a rite of passage to prepare girls for marriage. Other “womanhood” initiation ceremonies and dances – such as unyago, samba and chagulaga – involve a girl being trained on marital expectations when she reaches puberty.
- Displacement: Burundian refugees in Tanzania live with limited resources, and years of displacement drives some refugees to marry off their daughters as a survival mechanism.
- Climate change: The people in the region of Shinyanga, which has the highest prevalence rate of child marriage in Tanzania, depend on rain-fed agriculture, but climate change is turning this region dry. This seems to have lowered the living standards of rural families, who may in turn be resorting to child marriage as a negative coping mechanism.
A 2017 study cites other driving factors for child marriage in Tanzania, including a demand for house maids (in Iringa), a lack of awareness (Lindi and Mtwara) and parental force (Mara, Tabora and Shinyanga).
What has this country committed to?
Tanzania has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. In its Voluntary National Review at the 2019 High Level Political Forum, the government did not provide an update on progress towards this target, but mentioned the advocacy work carried out by NGOs to amend section 13 and 17 of the Marriage Act, 1971, which used to allow the marriage of girls below 18 years.
Tanzania co-sponsored the 2013, 2014 and 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and signed a joint statement at the 2014 Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Tanzania ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
During its 2016 Universal Periodic Review, Tanzania supported recommendations to accelerate efforts to end child marriage.
In 2003 Tanzania ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage.
Tanzania is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, Tanzania committed to review the Marriage Act and key legal and institutional frameworks by 2025 to address gender inequality.
Tanzania is one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
Tanzania is a Pathfinder country for the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the Government of Tanzania signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
The National Plan of Action to End Violence against Women and Children 2017/18-2021/22 addresses the need to end child marriage and set the target to reduce child marriages to 10%. In 2017, implementation plans were formed for eight regions.
The Government has been developing a National Plan of Action on FGM/C and Child Marriage, which was delayed following the 2015 general elections. As of beginning of 2020, there are no updates on the development of this National Plan of Action.
The Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children conducted a National Survey on the Drivers and Consequences of Child Marriage in 2017.
In 2014, the “Child Marriage-Free Zone” National Campaign to End Child Marriage was launched in Mara region, calling for a review of discriminatory laws and action from the health, education and legal sectors to prevent child marriage. Other regions in Tanzania are now launching similar campaigns in collaboration with UNFPA.
Gender and Children desks have been established in 417 district police stations in Tanzania, alongside a Child Helpline piloted in six regions to assist victims of violence, including child marriage. Child friendly courts and child protection committees have also been established at district and ward level.
Tanzania’s Child Development Policy (2008) acknowledges that marrying at 15 deprives a child of his or her rights.
In 2015 Parliamentarians for Global Action held a capacity building discussion on child, early and forced marriage. 40 Tanzanian MPs analysed the root causes of child marriage and shared best practice with colleagues from Malawi and Ghana.
President John Magufuli stirred up controversy in 2017 after endorsing a law dating back to the 1960s allowing state schools to expel young mothers. Over the past decade more than 55,000 Tanzanian pregnant schoolgirls have been expelled from school, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Human rights organisations and women’s rights activists say the ban breaks international human rights conventions. It also contradicts a promise set out in the ruling party’s 2015 election manifesto, which pledged to allow pregnant school girls to continue with their studies. As of 2020, the policy remains in place.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
In July 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal. In October 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld this ruling, which had been challenged by the Attorney General with the argument that it interfered with the culture of the land.
The ruling found that Tanzania’s Law of Marriage Act 1971 was unconstitutional: it allowed for boys to marry at 18 years and girls to marry at 14 with consent of the court, and at the age of 15 with parental consent. It directed the government to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 years within a year.
However, it should be noted that customary marriages are exempt from the law.
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* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
Members In Tanzania
- African Initiatives
- Agape AIDS Control Program (AACP)
- Amref Health Africa
- Asante Africa Foundation (AAF)
- Bright Jamii Initiative (BJI)
- Children’s Dignity Forum
- Disability Foundation Tanzania
- Fighting Against Development Constraints Association (FADECA)
- Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE)
- Future for Marginalized Community (FUMACO)
- Generation Turning Point Organisation (GTPO)
- Hakizetu Tanzania Organization
- Hope 4 Young Girls Tanzania
- Hope Centre for Children, Girls and Women in Tanzania (HCCGWT)
- Kiota for Women’s Health and Development
- Morogoro Saving the Poor Organization
- Msichana Initiative
- Mwezeshe Mama
- Network Against Female Genital Mutilation (NAFGEM)
- New Chapter Development for Youth (NCDY)
- New Wash Burn Foundation (NWBF)
- Oasis for Orphans
- Organization of People Empowerment (OPE)
- Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC)
- Plan International
- Priority for Entrepreneurship Network Tanzania (PEN)
- Reaching the Unreached Tanzania (RUT)
- Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI)
- Rujewa Integrated Efforts to Fight Poverty (RIEFP)
- Sports Development Aid (SDA)
- Tanzania Support for Women Rights (TASUWORI)
- Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA)
- The Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment (ARUWE)
- Thubutu Africa Initiatives
- Training and Research Support Centre Tanzania
- Transformative and Integrative Build Out for All (TIBA)
- Unique Development for Future (UDF)
- VSO International
- World YWCA