TODAY, the World marks the climax of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and this is an international annual campaign to challenge violence against women and girls.
Tanzania joined other countries of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to draft and adopt the Model Law to enhance efforts in eradicating Child Marriage and protect children already in marriage.
The Model Law requires member states to harmonise their national laws to prevent child marriages in support of the African Union Campaign to end child marriage in a generation.
The law provides guidance to parliamentarians, ministries of justice, policymakers, and other stakeholders in SADC countries as they develop national laws.
The law equally, eliminates several loopholes that make current laws ineffective and unenforceable including parental and judicial consent, and conflicts between customary and statuary laws.
Speaking about the SADC Model Law to the Parliamentarians recently, Advocate Barnabas Kaniki, from the Tanzania Women Lawyers (TAWLA) said, "The model law is a very useful tool for Tanzania as we reflect on amending the Law of Marriage Act of 1971.
It sets 18 years as a minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls and goes even further to provide mechanisms to assist children who are already in marriage.
The Tanzania Parliament, through its MPs, participated in developing the Model Law, and because it reflects the country's context, it should guide the government towards the amendment, he said.
Advocate Kaniki said that neighbouring Malawi, which is part of SADC, had in February 2017 amended their constitution so as to ban child marriages by putting the age of marriage at 18 for both boys and girls.
Nationally, two out of five girls get married before the age of 18 and while still persisting, the practice is countrywide, with top five regions being Shinyanga at 59 per cent, Tabora at 58 per cent, Mara at 55 per cent, Dodoma at 51 per cenr and Lindi at 48 per cent and the region with the lowest prevalence is Iringa at 8 per cent.
In Tanzania, locally the Tanzania Ending Child Marriage Network (TECMN), a philanthropic movement, is tasked as a coalition of more than 50 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working together to end it domestically.
The network recently conducted campaigns among the Members of the Parliament (MPs) in Dodoma in efforts to strengthen the protection of the girl child.
The movement was supported by organizations such as UNFPA, Amplify Change, PLAN International, the French Embassy, the Canadian High Commission and The Foundation for Civil Society, TECMN and highlighted the repercussions of child marriages to the child whose "body is not fully formed."
Chairperson of TECMN, Ms Valerie Msoka argues that Child Marriage almost exclusively happens within the context of poverty and gender inequality and the fact that it also has social, cultural and economic dimensions. She says the practice occurs more frequently among girls who are the least educated, poorest and living in rural areas.
"Sometimes parents use their daughters as a source of income that will help the rest of the family through bride price which is often paid in terms of cattle and cash," she adds.
The Network's Coordinator, Michael Jackson Sungusia explains why engagement with Parliamentarians is crucial, "the need to create advocates within the Parliament is because Members of Parliament are uniquely positioned to shape, advance and implement such a framework, within the country and beyond.
The Network stressed to the Parliamentarians their role as Law Makers and that their part in the eradication of Child Marriage heavily lay in improving the child marriage law.
In this, Advocate Gertrude Dyabene, from the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) which is a member of the Network, informed the Parliamentarians of the inconsistence of the laws that are contradictory with to the Law of Marriage Act of 1971, but were passed by Parliament to protect the girl child.
With such an example, the Network handed to the Women Parliamentary group (TWPG) a Draft Bill which could be the starting point to the tabling of a Private Bill. Speaking of the Draft Bill, Advocate Kaniki said, "This draft bill has been developed by the Network members with TAWLA taking the lead.
It clearly highlights areas that need changes within the LMA and how these changes will address the menace. "Meeting with the Parliamentarians was also an opportunity for TECMN to get their perspectives on the best way forward in its campaign against child marriage," Mr Kaniki noted.
During discussion, the MPs raised voices raised on the prevailing situation, where Special Seats Mp Martha Mlata (CCM) was of the opinion that: "Child Marriage needs to be declared a national disaster so that as a nation we take action against this harmful and outdated tradition."
On his side, National Assembly Speaker John Ndungai and the Attorney General Adelardus Kilangi both recognized the problem and the need to end the practice.
Mrn Ndungai advised that "We should educate the religious people and cultural leaders as this is a sensitive and sentimental. If we educate them and they understand then the parliament will be in a better position in discussing it positively."
The AG said that although the issue was sensitive it did not mean it was unsolvable, "Unfortunately this law has many issues which make amending it both passionate and chaotic; these are customary, religious and the Indian laws which we adopted.
Continue advocating, it will happen eventually, but also understand that laws take time to change just as Rome was not built in a day."