15 million girls under the age of 18 are married off each year around the world. Whether these marriages are arranged for financial reasons or are simply part of a cultural norm, the facts don’t change: these married school-age girls are far less likely to complete their education, and they have a higher risk of dying in childbirth, contracting HIV, and being victims of domestic or sexual violence. Tanzania, located in eastern Africa, has high rates of married school-age girls as well as one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancies in the world: 37% of underage girls in Tanzania are married, and more than one in five Tanzanian teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 have given birth. A new law passed last month in Tanzanian parliament aims to change this trend by making it illegal (and punishable by up to 30 years in prison) for a man to marry or impregnate a primary-school or second-school age girl.
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Previously, girls as young as fourteen were able to legally be married if their parents consented or as part of a special court consent procedure. The new law concerning child brides and underage pregnancies makes it illegal under any circumstances, and the legislation is not the only effort to ensure a brighter future with more possibilities and improve access to education for young girls in Tanzania. It goes hand in hand with Tanzania’s recently launched free education policy, which made primary and secondary school education available at no cost to all Tanzanian children. The government also issued a warning that parents who prohibit their children from attending school will also be punished.
The new law, however, has some loopholes as far as how (and if) these men will actually be reported, especially considering that many child marriages are not legally or formally recognized and that they often occur when financially necessary for the girls’ family. The heads of the area schools will be required to submit information on recent student marriages or pregnancies. In addition to preventing these marriages and pregnancies in the first place, another positive step could be allowing girls who become pregnant to return to school after they give birth. The president of Gambia, which is located in West Africa, also announced a punishment of up to 20 years in jail for men marrying underage girls.