Suluhu team should allow pregnant learners back in class

Tuesday, March 30th, 2021 00:00 |

In June 2017, the late Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli said learners who get pregnant, should not be allowed to finish their studies even after giving birth, sparking outrage from human rights groups in the region.

 Magufuli reinforced an old law that bars pregnant girls in Tanzania from attending regular school and punishes teachers who don’t honour the ban — a policy that was first introduced in the 1960s.

Under the measure, schoolgirls are often subjected to mandatory pregnancy tests and run the risk of being arrested if they test positive for pregnancy.  

Teenage pregnancies are on the rise in Tanzania. The 2015-2016 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey  found that one  in four women aged 15 to 19 are mothers.

4o per cent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence, and almost 20 per cent have experienced sexual violence. 

This is compounded by the fact that in Tanzania one in five women have an unmet need for contraception, and one million women have unintended pregnancies each year.

Further, most schools often lack comprehensive sexuality education, with learners reporting that they do not have the information they need to prevent pregnancy.

Currently, there is no national sexuality education curriculum in mainland Tanzania.

Tanzania implemented a free education policy for high school to ensure all children and adolescents have access to education.

However, the policy does not extend to adolescents that become pregnant.

According to World Bank, 60,000 students drop out of secondary school every year in Tanzania, 5,500 of those leave due to pregnancy.

While there is no government policy that states that students who become pregnant must be expelled from public schools, most pregnant girls do drop out. 

Issuance of lockdowns and other measures globally meant that there is increase in reproductive health injustices such as Sexual Violence; rape, defilement and child marriage.

Adolescent and young people have reportedly been facing several challenges on Sexual Gender Based Violence, access to contraceptives, access to mental health services, unintended pregnancy and the dilemma of curfew and cessation of movement. 

Arresting pregnant schoolgirls and denying them their right to education is cruel, humiliating and discriminatory.

Preventing girls from continuing their education has a significant impact on their personal and academic lives, while adding unnecessary shame.

Punishing these girls is not a solution to the problem. Human rights are indivisible, inseparable and universal.

The main causes of teenage pregnancy in Tanzania include sexual exploitation, abuse, poverty, lack of information about sex and reproduction and lack of access to services such as family planning. 

Preventing pregnant girls and adolescent mothers from attending school denies them access to education and keeps many trapped in a cycle of poverty.

This, in turn, exposes them to violations including child and forced marriage, Female Genital Mutilation and sexual and labour exploitation. 

Children need to be protected against sexual violence in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The government and the justice system in Tanzania should continue to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable, help girls transition back into school, avail free access to safe and legal abortion  to survivors of sexual violence such as rape and defilement and teach boys and girls comprehensive sexual education.

The President Samia Suluhu Hassan leadership must focus on the drivers of adolescent and teenage pregnancies which are entirely overlooked in current punitive policies, instead of expelling and arresting school girls.

Adolescent and teenage girls in Tanzania need support not threats, to avoid pregnancy.

Tanzania should ban sexual violence, not pregnant adolescent and teenage girls from accessing education or schools.

Just Like Kenya; the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and other  stakeholders within Tanzania should develop, implement  a “Return to school Policy” that ensures that pregnant school girls are allowed back in school after delivery. — The writer is a sexual reproductive health advocate 

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