Last month, the High Court of Tanzania ruled that sections of the 1971 Marriage Act, which allowed girls to be married at an age as young as 14, were unconstitutional. TECMN Chairperson, Ms Valerie Msoka, said it was shocking that the biggest stakeholder would appeal the court decision against such changes.
"Child marriage is no joke and should be discarded with the highest of contempt as it takes advantage of young children and robs them of their future; development of the human race cannot occur if cultures such as these are tolerated with a casual look as if it is normal," she stressed.
Accompanied by some of TECMN members, Ms Msoka said if Tanzania was to be a country of laws and justice, Attorney General Chambers should respect judgments and ruling which mostly benefit minors in the country.
She said she were happy that under the decision, children's rights will be protected as the Marriage Act was forcing girl under 18 years to enter into a marriage contract, when such contract is entered upon consent of parents or guardian, while such guardian is not part to the terms and conditions of the contract.
Founder and Executive Director for Msichana Initiative, Ms Rebeca Gyumi, said the government appeal was "one step forward and two steps back." She added: "We are still confused with the government decision as to date; we don't have a memorandum of appeal and hence we don't even know the grounds of appeal.'
' Ms Gyumi, who is the champion of the historic ruling, said they expected the government to support them in the fight against child marriage as such practices have been there for a very long time - affecting child development.
Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba, said the effect of the Act was to discriminate against girls by depriving them of opportunities that are vital for all citizens.
"By the filing of the appeal by the government, it means that it is not against child marriage, which deprives children of their rights in the country," she said.
Dr Bisimba noted that as the Court of Appeal was not the last option for them; they were ready even to go further to the African Court of Justice if the government would win the appeal. Recently, a High Court nullified sections 13 and 17 of the Tanzania Law of Marriage Act, which allow girls to marry at age 15 with parental permission and at age 14 with the permission of a court.
They ruled that the provisions were unconstitutional and therefore, gave the Attorney General (AG) one year from the date of the decision within which to make arrangements for amendments of the law to put 18 years as the minimum age for one to contract marriage.
The court's ruling follows a series of new legal measures, adopted by the government, which makes it a crime to attempt to marry school-going children under 18 years, as well as any "person who impregnates a primary school or a secondary school girl."
By Hilda Mhagama
Source: Tanzania Daily News (AllAfrica.com)