Large segments of the Tanzanians population are poor and most of the girls are no exception. The education accessible to the fortunate ones ends mostly at primary school level often at the age of about 14.
This is evident because most of the families cannot afford the necessities associated with secondary education such as transport even now when fees have been removed in government schools.
Besides, secondary education is not readily available everywhere in the vast rural areas anyway.
The situation is almost the same in the urban centres because secondary schools are not yet enough in and those operating are not well funded, staffed and equipped.
The statistics speak loud and clear. The girls who do not make up to the secondary level of education are in millions at any given time in Tanzania.
The minimum age of 18 will make it virtually impossible for most of the parents to continue to protect their daughters who are between the ages of 14 to 18 – and are already of marriageable age by physiological design and nature.
The daughters are mostly vulnerable because of poverty compounded by the surging natural sexual urges.
Gender equality between boys and girls with regard to a common minimum marriage age is not sustainable because of their differing respective physiological nature, needs and design. This is a glaring fact and facts are stubborn.
Definition of “Child”
What is worse in terms of injustice to girls is to set an age as high as 18 for marriage and define, in legal terms, that any person under 18 is a “child” regardless of their gender. A marriage under the age of 18 cannot be “a child marriage” because of the skewed definition, in contrast to the human maturity of the girl at the age of 16 or 17 and she, factually, is not a child!
And then with this definition, the girl cannot be legally employed or gainfully occupied between the age of 14 upon leaving the primary school, to the age of 18. It is deemed to be “child labour”.
Now the dire consequences for Tanzanians. During the imposed difficult self-restraint period of as long as four years, illicit sexual relations, outside the norm of marriage, with unwanted pregnancies are most likely and many in numbers, especially when driven under the pressure and desperation of poverty.
This will surely destroys or erodes the values attached to development of a chaste “Family Life” in our national societies.
It is the people more and not the geographical features that make a country; and it is the value the people attach to life which defines the people oriented development of a country.
Every person has one life to live – a life which must be facilitated by the State to be morally and religiously right and attuned to the normal human nature and basic emotional needs - and not made unnecessarily difficult.
The institution of marriage attendant with human emotions and sentiments is most important in human family life.
It cannot be disturbed overnight with a stroke of a pen and without the consultation of all the segments of the public.
It is evident therefore that denying a girl her right to a marriage when she is physiologically of a marriageable age and past the age of 16 or 17, is a violation of her human right. It is even worse when it is brought about by a gender bias against her.
It has to be admitted that the physiological differences and the emotional consciousness attached to the differences between a girl and a boy have their purposes in the human race, if we do not want to say that it is by a divine design.
A girl develops sexual urge sooner than a boy. Why should the girl have to wait as long as the boy as if the ground is level?
It is however, argued that a girl cannot make a sound decision on a matter as important in life as marriage when she is under 18. The thresh-hold age for maturity is relative.
If a girl by nature is matured to produce and takes care of children on her own, she is also deemed to be matured to make a decision on marriage. However, the parents' consent can be made mandatory if the age is under 18 as a measure of precaution.
There are certain countries in the West which allow a marriage under 18 legally with the express consent of the parents. England and Wales are examples. Scotland’s minimum age is 16. The majority of the countries which have a higher minimum age have allowed marriage at a lower age upon the parent’s consent.
Parents too have their rights and one of these is to get their daughters married at the age they decide best. However, a minimum age subject to parents' consent can be set reasonably between 16 and 18.
All said, more harm will be wrought on the society if the minimum age is set at 18 for girls than the welfare-concern, (if valid), intended for them.
The higher minimum marriageable age of 18 can only be an incentive for completion of secondary education for the few in urban centres, since the concern for health and maturity has been argued hereinabove as being of no more relevance.
It seems certain that Tanzanians will be promoting and raising a sizeable society of single mothers whose prospects for a marriage will have become diminished because of the societal stigma only to increase the general poverty in extensity and perhaps in intensity also, and draw upon the resources of the government for their constitutional welfare when resources for these are not and have never been adequate.
Article No. 8 (1) (b) of the Tanzanian Constitution states that “the primary objective of the government shall be the "welfare of the people".
Now, raising the minimum age to 18 with all the potential dire consequences beyond a normal human restraint cannot be deemed to be attuned to a welfare of the people who include women.
The cycle of the adverse consequences because of this gender bias against women (girls) will continue to show in every succeeding generation.
There can be cases of parents, not a few, instead of understanding the emotional and sexual conditions of their daughters, will drive them out to fend for themselves as single mothers each with an illegitimate child and later have more such children to join the first one.
It is not proper to follow the thinking of other countries where the family values and chastity criteria are differently defined and applied and the consequential potential harm faced by our African society is almost none for them in national economic terms. Besides, Tanzania is a large country and in terms of population it is also a nation where poverty is still widening and deepening.
It is a country where enough facilities for secondary education are not available in each and every village and a country where a great majority of people are rural based.The greatest threat to our family values is to see them through the eyes of others! Our challenges are different yet!