No Way Out: Child Marriage in Tanzania


This week, I learned that schools in Tanzania have the right to force girls to have pregnancy tests, and to expel them if they are pregnant.

This appalling fact is one of the reasons that child marriage is such an issue in some communities – because girls who get pregnant and are not married have few options in life, and are seen as bringing dishonor to their families. In Tanzania, 4 out of 10 girls are married before their 18th birthday. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 37 percent of Tanzanian women aged 20−24 years were first married before the age of 18.

No Way Out, a new report by Human Rights Watch, eloquently discusses the challenges and impacts of child marriage in Tanzania.  It confirms a lot of what we know about the causes of child marriage, and provides examples from the Tanzanian context. What does the report tell us about why child marriage happens?

  • Girls are seen as property for their husbands, parents, and in-laws: “Dora P.[1] told Human Rights Watch that her husband was physically and verbally abusive, and that whenever she complained, he would reply, “I bought you. Your father has taken my wealth so I own you. Do you think you can go anywhere?””
  • Money matters: Japheat Daud commented that, “It is common for a father whose daughter has passed Standard 7 (equivalent to grade 9), [to say] he has no money to educate her because he wants her to marry so he can receive dowry.”
  • Families want to control sexuality: “marriage is viewed as a way to protect them from pre-marital sex and pregnancy that undermine family honor and may decrease the amount of dowry a family may receive.”
  • Girls are looking for a better life: Nancy J told Human Rights Watch “I was a housemaid and living a very difficult life. I was abused a lot and humiliated in the home where I worked. I saw marriage as my only way out of the suffering. I found a man who agreed to marry me.”

The accompanying video tells harrowing stories about girls who were married as children, and the violence and difficulties they faced.

The report calls for the government of Tanzania to set 18 as the legal age for marriage for both boys and girls and to end the practice of forcing pregnant and married girls to leave school. These are excellent goals, but it is important to recognize the good work that the Tanzanian government has done so far.  

Some examples of progress are:

  • The Child Rights Act of 2009
  • The establishment of Children's and Gender Desks in Police Stations starting in 2008
  • Strengthening Child protection mechanisms
  • The first Violence against Children report in Tanzania
  • Several National strategies to address child rights in Tanzania (several strategies, including child labour, violence against children, child domestic work, and trafficking)
  • The 2014 Education and Training Policy that enables girls to return to school following pregnancy.

We know from our programming in Tanzania that with support and advocacy, communities can support girls to go back to school, and those girls can have incredible success. Second Chances, Releasing the Power of Girls tells the story of girls who are able to go back to school.  Let’s support implementation of Tanzania’s policies that will help women and girls in Tanzania achieve their full potential.

[1] Names have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of the girls in the stories.