The order was imposed by minister Dr Harrison Mwakeyembe on Wednesday in Morogoro while addressing Morogoro District officials, state attorneys and staff members of the Registration, Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency (RITA) in the region.
Overturning the decision yesterday in Dodoma, President Magufuli said his government could not allow such a prerequisite directive to be implemented as it would deny people of their right to get married.
President Magufuli made it clear yesterday that majority of Tanzanians, especially those who were born in earlier decades had no valid birth certificates, noting that imposing such a requirement was tantamount to denying them their right to marriage.
Another group that was likely to be severely affected by Dr Mwakyembe’s order is rural dwellers due to the fact that access to such documents for them is not easy.
The president’s words are quite valid given the truth that until today the government through RITA is struggling to set up smooth modalities to ensure every Tanzanian gets access to valid certificates.
President Magufuli illustrated with statistics, saying that while the minister imposed such a marriage prerequisite, until now figures show less than 20 per cent of Tanzanians possess valid birth certificates.
As head of state President Magufuli issued directives to the Ministry for Justice and Constitutional Affairs to immediately look into any law that puts barriers for marriage so that it could be reviewed.
Much as we support the president’s decision, the order by Dr Mwakyembe attracted fierce debate across the country, some questioning the rationale of imposing it.
Being the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs it was imperative for Dr Mwakyembe to consult stakeholders first such as his fellow ministers, religious and traditional leaders, lawyers and even the general public to find out if the idea was feasible before coming up with the decision by himself.
We believe Dr Mwakyembe himself is aware of the fact that less than 20 per cent of Tanzanians possess valid birth certificates and that the majority of Tanzanians living in rural areas experience problems in getting the documents.
The minister himself was quoted as saying Tanzania still lags behind on the registration of births and issuing of certificates, and that as a nation we are among the five worst performers among African countries on birth registration.
Furthermore Dr Mwakyembe revisited the 2012 population and housing census, saying only 13.7 per cent of Tanzanians possessed birth certificates, with Zanzibar’s birth registration standing at 75 per cent.
The above facts were sufficient to raise alarm in Dr Mwakyembe’s mind that implementation his directive would be close to impossible. Short of that people would resort to shortcuts, such as committing forgery just for the purpose of facilitating marriage.
The reversal of Dr Mwakyembe’s order by the president should serve as a lesson to the minister that he made the decision without thinking critically. He should now craft strategies to fecilitate access to valid birth certificates.
We learn through mistakes but it is possible the minister wanted to put in a state of embarrassment those who would come to seek marriage of youngsters, by alluding to the regulation that an adult who can give consent to social commitment and legal responsibility should at least be 18.
Parents who would be defending themselves that their daughters have big physical appearance and thus should be married at 15 would not be totally hindered but would be discouraged, and that would help to check bad habits of marrying off young girls by the mere strength of the law.