Tanzanian Girls’ Rights Activist Wins the UN Human Rights Prize

Tanzanian Girls’ Rights Activist Wins the UN Human Rights Prize


At just 31 years old, Rebeca Gyumi has a list of accomplishments anyone twice her age would be proud of. She has successfully challenged her country’s legal system, winning a landmark ruling in 2016 to raise the age of child marriage for girls in Tanzania from 14 to 18; started a foundation to advocate for girls’ education; won the UNICEF Global Goal Award and was named 2016 Woman of the Year by New Africa Magazine. Now, she’s on her way to New York to collect the 2018 Human Rights Prize awarded by the United Nations.

“I was pretty much shocked. So shocked and caught unaware that I was even considered for such a prestigious prize,” she tells CNN.

It wasn’t until she was in university studying law that she learned about the Law of Marriage Act of 1971 and saw the potential in trying to mount a legal challenge against it.

In 2016, with a couple of years as a lawyer under her belt, Gyumi and her colleagues decided to do just that. They started work on a legal case to petition against the Marriage Act, compiling reports to prove that child marriage for girls was an issue nationwide and why it needed to be stopped.

According to the country’s national demographic and health survey of 2015/16, two out of every five girls marry before their 18th birthday with a prevalence rate of 37% nationwide, giving Tanzania one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.

“Lots of people were not amused and thought we were disruptive, saying ‘young people have tried before and failed.’ But when we started attending sessions in court with a positive outcome, organizations came back and said they were willing to work together with us.”

Gyumi and her colleagues persevered and in 2016, at the age of 29, she was victorious. Tanzania’s High Court ruled that sections 13 and 17 of the Marriage Act were unconstitutional and that the age for girls to legally marry should be raised to 18.

“I was so happy that day for the fact that a girl child had won. I was overwhelmed with joy,” she says.

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