In a landmark ruling that is expected to shake up centuries of tradition, Tanzania’s Supreme Court of Appeal has held an earlier ruling by a lower court that girls as young as 15 cannot be committed into marriages.
Earlier in 2016, a high court ruled that parents marrying off their children was unconstitutional. The court also directed that the practice was to be banned.
But coming on the back of a long history of local customs, there were defenders of the status quo of child marriage.
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Child rights activists argued that the practice was exploitative and had forced so many young girls into underage marriages. The government, however, disagreed.
The office of the country’s attorney-general filed an appeal at the Supreme Court with one of its claims that child marriages actually protect young women who are impregnated.
But on Wednesday, the court ruled that the government need to respect the previous ruling, reports CNN.
Child marriage is a common practice in Africa with Tanzania having one of the world’s highest rates of 2 out of every 5 underaged girls married off before they can even vote at 18.
The fight to end child marriage in Tanzania in recent times has been attributed to the efforts of Rebecca Gyumi.
In early 2016, Gyumi filed a petition at the High Court to challenge the Tanzania Marriage Act which allowed girls as young as 15 to get married and won a landmark case that same year that raised the age of child marriage from 15 to 18.
Following the impact of her work, Gyumi was named the 2016 UNICEF Global Goals award winner for her work in advancing girls’ rights in Tanzania. That same year, she was named 2016 Woman of the Year by New Africa Magazine.