Pregnant schoolgirl ban… President of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli has come under intense criticisms following his comments that girls who give birth should not be allowed to return to school.
A law in Tanzania which was passed in 2002, allows for the expulsion of pregnant school girls. This law says the girls can be expelled and excluded from school for “offences against morality” and “wedlock”.
But these comments by the Tanzanian President has reignited a debate on the pregnant schoolgirl ban. The law which was enacted in 2002, has been subjected to debate since its approval.
Magufuli’s Remarks on Pregnant Schoolgirl Ban
President Magufuli made his pregnant school girl remarks on June 22, 2017, while addressing the Bagamoyo District residents in his 3-day tour of Coast Region, Tanzania. The leader said that pregnant girls should not be allowed to go back to school after they deliver, arguing they would not be able to concentrate. Mr. Magufuli warned schoolgirls at a rally on Monday that “After getting pregnant, you are done.”
According to him, they are no longer girls but parents and should not be allowed to enjoy the free education benefits meant for children. President Magufuli argued that if such girls were to be allowed back to school, then they would encourage other girls to engage in pre-marital sex.
He, however, suggested other areas where girls in this category can fit into after delivery. Some of these he said, include Vocational Education Training Authority (VETA) where they learn skills like sewing and others.
30 Years in Jail for the Fathers
For the men who impregnate these girls, the Tanzanian President said that they should be imprisoned for 30 years and made to channel the energy they used to impregnate the girls, into farming while in jail.
The President also criticized human rights organizations who have been pushing the government to reverse the expulsion law. Mangufuli’s remarks came weeks after Vice-President Samia Suluhu called for young mothers to be readmitted school,
Magufuli’s remarks were followed by mixed reactions from different stakeholders. Some have supported the president’s comments saying that the law will only serve as a deterrent to the youth who wish to adopt indecent lifestyles.
However, a section of individuals has rebuked the President’s remarks which they termed an infringement on the rights of the girl child. The agitations these individuals gave rise to the hashtag #ArudiShule (let her return) on Twitter; a campaign to persuade authorities to act against the pregnant schoolgirl ban.
— Helen Griffiths (@GriffithsH_) June 23, 2017
An online petition has also been set up and a pan-African women’s organization is mobilizing to get the president to apologize and reverse his comments. This petition draws the attention of authorities to the exceptional cases of rape or assault, as well as juvenile abuses which some of these girls often fall victim to.
— Petrider Paul (@PetriderPaul) June 23, 2017
Per the petition, the statement by the President propagates more discrimination without reconsidering that these girls need more sexual reproductive health education. It goes further to demand that the Tanzanian government needs to formulate a legal framework that would allow teenage mothers to resume schooling after giving birth.
Girl Child Education in Tanzania
According to a report by Human Right Watch (HRW) in February 2017, more than 1.5 million children in Tanzania do not have access to basic education. This is due to lack of schools in the rural areas as well as the Pregnant schoolgirl ban which has encouraged discrimination of girls in the category, including victims of circumstances.
The report said that up to 8,000 girls drop out of school due to pregnancy every year, one of the highest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. This alarming rate has reportedly caused schools to conduct pregnancy tests on girls, expelling those with positive results.
However, individuals campaigning against the expulsion of pregnant schoolgirls are of the opinion that kicking them out of school will only deprive them of reproductive education which they need, to be able to protect themselves from possible recurrences.