In 2016, Rebeca Gyumi challenged the Marriage Act which allowed girls as young as 14 in Tanzania to be married with their parents’ consent. Thanks to her petition and campaigning by her organization, Msichana Initiative, the High Court in Tanzania said in a landmark ruling that the Marriage Act of 1971 was unconstitutional and discriminatory towards girls. The High Court’s decision raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls.
The Msichana (meaning girl in Swahili) Initiative aims to empower girls through education and address challenges which limit their right to education.
"As much as I was seeing youth issues in my country, girls’ issues were always many and pressing," Gyumi said. "Child marriage was one issue in particular that frustrated me because I was part of different advocacy meetings that would discuss about how we were going to ensure that the minimum age of marriage in my country is 18 but I saw little progress."
"So I asked myself what can I do, as a lawyer and as a young person who feels my voice is something I can lend in this movement, to speed-up the process of raising the minimum age and that’s where the petition came about," she added.
Gyumi is one of the recipients of this year’s prestigious UN Human Rights Prize, an honorary award given to individuals and organizations in recognition of outstanding achievement in human rights.
The award provides an opportunity to give recognition to the achievements of the recipients themselves and to send a clear message to human rights defenders all over the world that the international community is grateful for, and supports, their efforts to promote all human rights for everyone.
The award ceremony for the 2018 Prize took place at UN Headquarters in New York on 18 December, as part of activities to celebrate Human Rights Day.
This year’s other three winners include Amsa Jahagir (posthumously), a human rights lawyer from Pakistan; Joenia Wapixana (Joenia Batista de Carvalho), an activist for indigenous communities in Brazil; and the Irish organization, Front Line Defenders, which advocates and works for the protection of human rights defenders.