Tanzania: Government to amend girls' age consent for marriage

The Tanzanian government is reviewing the country's Marriage Act with the aim of raising girls' age consent for marriage from 15 to 18 years, Deputy Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mathias Chikawe has said.
"The Law of Marriage Act of 1971 allows the marriage of girls at the age of 15 years; at this age the girls are still biologically and psychologically immature," Chikawe, said. "It is for such reasons that we are now in the process of reviewing that legislation."
Chikawe said the current Marriage Act was in conflict with several other local and international legal provisions. He was responding to a question on Thursday by a legislator, Lucy Owenya, who had expressed concern over the provision in the statute allowing marriage of girls under the age of 18.

Chikawe said marriage of under-age girls undermined their development by denying them the opportunity for further education. It also exposed them to risks of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and complications during pregnancy or delivery, she added.

She said the practice violated the human rights of individuals and was biologically risky. "We are aware of dangers associated with pregnancy of premature women that include deformation of the body and other complications," Chikawe said.

A recent study by the Tanzania Media Women Association shows a strong correlation between HIV/AIDS, early school dropout rate, teenage marriage and pregnancy. The association blamed the law that allows under-age girls aged to marry with parental consent.

The study, based on pregnant adolescent girls attending hospitals in the densely populated southeastern Coast and central Morogoro provinces, noted that the girls' husbands "characteristically have had multiple partners, which puts the girls at the risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS".

Immature and financially dependent, the adolescent brides are unlikely to be able to negotiate for safer sex, the study said.

"The girls are too young and ignorant about the importance of knowing their HIV/AIDS status, and lack the courage to convince their partners to know their sero-status," Upendo Mwinchande, the director of the AIDS Business Coalition of Tanzania, said.

Although 76.6 percent of the TAMWA study sample was aware of the risks posed by HIV, most of the expectant girls were married and refused to undergo HIV tests, even after counselling. Over six percent of those tested were found to be HIV-positive, just one percent below the national prevalence rate.

Dodoma, November 10, 2006