Activists hail Tanzania move to elevate ban on pregnant schoolgirls

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – Tanzania introduced this week the lifting of a controversial ban prohibiting pregnant ladies from returning to high school, a choice that got here after years of sustained strain from activists urging the federal government to desert what they termed a discriminatory coverage.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Joyce Ndalichako mentioned the federal government would take away all limitations to re-entry for college students desirous to return to high school after dropping out, together with as a consequence of being pregnant.

“It’s the right time,” Leonard Akwilapo, the ministry’s everlasting secretary, instructed Al Jazeera. “There was a lot of discussion about this and society seemed to be ready to lift this ban. Social media have been awash with discussions about this issue with many people wanting change”.

Teachers say the 1960s coverage was vigorously applied through the earlier administration of late President John Magufuli, who died in March this yr and was succeeded by Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s first feminine president.

Magufuli had as soon as mentioned his authorities wouldn’t educate moms.

“I give money for a student to study for free. And then, she gets pregnant, gives birth and after that, returns to school. No, not under my mandate,” he mentioned in 2017.

As his statements typically turned official coverage, this stance led to extra compelled being pregnant testing and expulsion for ladies discovered pregnant. Researchers and campaigners additionally confronted hostility from authorities officers and supporters.

“Activists have paid a huge price fighting for this change,” mentioned Mshabaha Mshabaha, coordinator of the Change Tanzania group, who lengthy campaigned in opposition to the coverage.

“Those of us on the front line were viewed as having personal political agenda against the late President John Magufuli. That we were propagating for foreign values, and encouraging prostitution among children in schools. It appears authorities have come to realise that we were only fighting for girls’ rights to education.”

In February 2020, Zitto Kabwe, the chief of the opposition ACT Wazalendo get together, acquired demise threats from members of parliament after he led a coalition of activists who wrote to the World Bank to withhold a mortgage to the federal government over the “discriminatory policy” of conserving pregnant ladies away from faculties.

‘Invest more in sex education’

The most crucial subsequent step now’s specializing in prevention efforts, mentioned Neema Mgendi, founder and CEO of Okoa New Generation, an organisation constructing capability for ladies who dropped out of college due to being pregnant.

“Most of the girls who get pregnant in schools lack basic sexual education,” mentioned Mgendi. “As we commend this development, the most important step now is to invest more in sexual education and increase awareness among students about the impact of teen pregnancies and child marriages and encourage them to remain in schools.”

The World Bank mentioned final yr greater than 5,000 pregnant ladies in Tanzania have been barred yearly from persevering with with their research, in addition to from going again to high school after giving delivery.

Supporters of the ban had argued that permitting pregnant ladies to proceed with college would promote “promiscuity” amongst college students and result in extra ladies getting pregnant. While there isn’t a proof to assist this, research have discovered lack of sexual schooling and poverty may each strongly affect ladies’ probability of falling pregnant as youngsters in Tanzania.

‘Right to education’

Earlier this yr, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report cited ladies who received pregnant whereas in class as saying that males exploited their monetary wants. They reported that males, typically motorbike taxi drivers, provided to purchase them important items or give rides to high school in alternate for intercourse.

School officers and lecturers typically used the nation’s Education Act and its schooling expulsion rules of 2002 to expel ladies. The rules allow expulsion when a pupil has dedicated an offence “against morality” or if a pupil has entered into wedlock.

In its July and August analysis, HRW discovered some ladies have been expelled simply earlier than they sat for his or her nationwide qualifying exams in Form 4, the final yr of decrease secondary college, after faculties performed obligatory being pregnant checks shortly earlier than or in the course of these exams.

Tanzania has now turn into one of many final two nations in Africa to elevate the ban in opposition to pregnant schoolgirls from accessing schooling. Only Equatorial Guinea nonetheless maintains the coverage after Sierra Leone additionally reversed it final yr.

Elin Martinez, senior researcher in HRW’s kids’s rights division, mentioned years of research throughout many African nations have proven that merely eradicating a coverage that denies ladies the appropriate to schooling was merely not sufficient.

“A policy or a legal framework must be in place so that girls who have been actively denied and told that they could not go back to school because of pregnancy or motherhood to be able to claim their right to education,” Martinez mentioned.

“Having a framework that specifically stipulates their right to education and clarifies what school officials and ministry of education officials locally and at all levels need to do to guarantee that is extremely important.”