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HRW calls on Tanzania to set the minimum age for marriage at 18, following an investigation into high levels of child marriage and FGM in the country.
Child marriage in Tanzania limits girls’ access to education and exposes them to serious harms, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a recent report. The advocacy group documented cases in which girls as young as seven were married, and believes the government should set the minimum marriage age at 18 for girls and boys. This is the first step towards eradicating child marriage and improving the lives of girls and women. Four in 10 Tanzanian women are married before turning 18, according to government statistics.
The detailed report is 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.
The investigation found that child marriage exposes girls to exploitation and violence – including marital rape, female genital mutilation (FGM) and reproductive health risks. Girls from the Maasai and Gogo ethnic groups said they were forced to undergo FGM to prepare them for marriage, with some undergoing the procedure when they were as young as 10 years old.
HRW examined the gaps in Tanzania’s child protection system, the lack of protection for victims of child marriage, and the obstacles girls face in attempting to obtain redress, as well as shortcomings in existing laws and government plans to combat child marriage.
Girls told HRW that their families forced them to marry so they could get dowry payments. They felt their parents did not value their education, despite many begging to stay in school. Some parents married their girls off because they feared that they would become pregnant and bring disrespect to the family, while others said they saw marriage as a way out of poverty, violence, neglect or child labour.
Discriminatory and vague government education policies and practices facilitate early marriages, seriously undermining girls’ education and opportunities, HRW said. 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.
Child marriage puts girls and women at greater risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Girls who rejected or tried to resist marriages were assaulted and verbally abused by their families, who often threw them out if they didn’t obey them. 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.
A large number of those interviewed said their husbands abandoned them and left them to care for children without any financial support. In some cases, girls experienced violence and abuse at the hands of their in-laws.
The government should work toward comprehensive reform of marriage and divorce laws, including setting the minimum marriage age at 18, HRW said. It should enact a domestic violence law to make sexual violence in marriage a criminal offense and develop a national action plan to prevent and address the consequences of child marriage. The advocacy group has also called on the government to put an end to pregnancy testing in schools, allow both pregnant and married students to remain in school, and take all possible steps to allow all children to attend secondary school irrespective of their Primary School Leaving Examinations.
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