Tanzania’s new law states 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 Attorney General of Tanzania, George Masaju, says the new policy is to complement that of free education that was launched in January.
“We are aiming to create a better environment for our school girls to finish their studies without any barriers,” he told parliament.
But, while the new law is a laudable step in the right direction, its influence is restricted as it falls short on certain ends. The authorities can only be notified of a breach by schools if and when a female student gets pregnant or married. So what happens to offenders in rural communities where the girls are rarely ever sent to school?
Unless the government can ensure that every girl in Tanzania gets enrolled in school, child marriage will continue, unreported in these communities. Out of school means out of reach of the authorities and the law. Hence the threat of a 30-year jail sentence doesn’t fully address the issue.
There also exists The Law of Marriage Act which allows for 14 and 15 year old girls to be legally married as long as concerned parties and parents agree to it, or in the case of the former, if special circumstances account for it. This provision serves an impediment to the effectiveness of the new law, and should be amended or removed.
The issue of child marriage is a global one that has long existed in countries across the world, but has decreased substantially over time only to remain prevalent in certain regions like sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. In these regions, 50 to 70 percent – one in three – girls are married before the age of 18. Statistics show that Africa has 15 out of 20 countries in the world with the highest rate of underage marriages.
The problems that accompany child marriages are numerous including STD’s, domestic violence, Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF), and death.
In Tanzania, approximately 39 percent of girls become pregnant by age 19, and 37 percent, married. The issue of child marriage forms part of a wider conversation on gender equality, which is atop the list of sustainable development goals aimed to be achieved by 2030. This is why the governments of African countries need to sit up and implement practicable policies that embrace gender equity, provide equal educational opportunities for the girl and consequently put an end to child marriage.