Cablegate: Child Marriage in Tanzania

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Summary: Marriage under 18 is common in Tanzania
particularly in Muslim areas and amongst pastoralist tribes
in Arusha region. Tanzania law prohibits child marriage
under age 15 for girls, except with a court's consent. The
Islamic and customary courts may allow exceptions for
members of their respective communities. Civil society is
advocating for an increase in minimum legal marriage age for
girls. Government officials are also outspoken against
child marriage, publicly urging parents to let girls
continue their education. Child marriage contributes to
girl's dismally low - five percent - secondary school
enrollment rate. End Summary.

2. LEGAL CONTEXT: Under the "1971 Laws of Marriage Act",
the legal age for marriage is 18 for boys and 15 for girls.
A girl younger than 18 also needs parental consent to marry.
However, with court consent, the minimum age for marriage is
14 for both boys and girls. The Penal Code provides that
persons of "African or Asiatic descent" may marry or permit
marriage of a girl under 15 years of age in accordance with
their custom or religion so long as the marriage is not
consummated before she reaches 15 years.

3. EXTENT: Child marriage is a significant problem in
Tanzania. UNICEF figures for 1998-2003 show that 23 percent
of children in Tanzania are in a child marriage with child
marriage more common in urban areas(48 percent) than in
rural areas (39 percent). [Note: These statistics are
internally inconsistent, and possibly unreliable. The
national average is lower than both the average in urban and
the average in rural areas, as published in UNICEF's State
of the World Report. End note.] According to anecdotal
accounts, child marriage is a particular problem among
Tanzania's Muslim community and among pastoralist tribes in
the Arusha region (e.g. Masaii). In Arusha Region, there
have been reported cases in which children as young as 9
have been married off by their parents, reportedly because
of high bride prices offered by prospective husbands.
Tanzania Media Woman's Association research found several
instances of child marriages, including forced marriages.
In one documented case, an 11 year old girl was married off
to a 70 year old man.

3.b.EXTENT IN REFUGEE CAMPS: Among the 400,000 refugees
resident in Tanzania, there are few reported incidents of
child marriage. International NGOs documented 0-6 cases of
child marriage per camp in 2004, with an average of about 50
cases per year for all camps. However, many child marriages
may not be reported. An Africare field officer told PolOff
that child marriage is more common among Congolese refugees,
where girls marry at ages 12-14, but that Burundian refugees
commonly marry later, at ages 15-18. Poloff asked a small
group of Burundian refugees about the average age of
marriage; they all said that 18 was the common age of
marriage. PRM has supported "sexual and gender based
violence" programs implemented by international NGOs in the
refugee camps. These programs sensitize refugees about
problems associated with child marriage, track incidents of
child and forced marriage, and provide counseling and
appropriate referrals to child brides.

4. RISK FACTORS: Cultural and economic factors contributing
to child marriage include:
--Widespread poverty
-Small number of girls who continue on to secondary school
(5 percent).
--Cultural belief that at puberty unmarried girls may become
promiscuous and rendered unmarriageable if they are not
married young.
--Parent's desire to obtain bride-price
--Child marriages used to strengthen tribal or familial ties
under arranged marriages.
--Some young girls may enter child marriages to earn respect
as recognized adults in their communities.
--Limited economic opportunities for young girls to support
themselves financially.
--Cultural beliefs that at around age 14 girls are adults.

5. ADVERSE AFFECTS: Underage marriage in Tanzania reduces
the number of girls who complete or enter secondary school.
Girls who marry are generally not permitted to continue
school by their husbands or parents.

6. USG INITIATIVES: Neither USAID nor the US Embassy has
any programs that directly aim to reduce the incidence of
child marriage in Tanzania nationals. However, there are
several programs that indirectly target child marriage. Four
or five local NGOs which receive capacity building support
under USAID's civil society program, advocate raising the
legal marriage age for girls and have published articles on
the issue of child marriage. USAID received $4 million for
2004-2006 initiatives to improve education on Zanzibar (semi
autonomous islands which are 99 percent Muslim). USAID
anticipates follow-up activities in Zanzibar through 2005-
2006. The Ambassador's Girl Scholarship fund provides
scholarships to girls in secondary school to help girls stay
in school. The Public Affairs Section provided a grant to
support a local girl's leadership program on Ukererwe
Island. A 2003 Democracy and Human Right Fund grant
supported a legal rights workshop for Masaii women,
including training on child and forced marriages.


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