Activists praise Tanzania’s move to lift ban on pregnant schoolgirls | Education News

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – Tanzania this week announced the lifting of a controversial ban preventing pregnant girls from returning to school, a decision that came after years of sustained pressure from activists who urged the government to drop what they called a discriminatory policy.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Joyce Ndalishaku She said The government will remove all barriers to returning students wishing to return to school after dropping out, including due to pregnancy.

“It’s the right time,” Leonard Aquilabo, permanent secretary to the ministry, told Al Jazeera. “There was a lot of discussion about this and the community seemed ready to lift this ban. Social media has been flooded with discussions on this issue with many people wanting to change.”

Educators say the 1960s policy was aggressively implemented during the previous administration of late President John Magufuli, who died in March this year and was succeeded by Samiya Soluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s first female president.

Magufuli once said his government would not teach mothers.

“I give money to the student to study for free. And then you get pregnant and give birth and then you go back to school. No, it’s not within my mandate,” he said in 2017.

As his statements often became official policy, this attitude led to more forced pregnancy tests and the expulsion of girls who were found pregnant. Researchers and activists also faced hostility from government officials and supporters.

“Activists have paid a heavy price to fight for this change,” said Mishba Mishbaha, coordinator of the Tanzania Change Group, which has long been against the policy.

“Those of us on the front lines were seen as having a personal political agenda against the late President John Magufuli. That we were spreading foreign values ​​and encouraging child prostitution in schools. The authorities seemed to realize that we were just fighting for girls’ rights to education.”

In February 2020, Zito Kabwe, leader of the opposition ACT Wazalendo party, received death threats from members of parliament after he led a coalition of activists who wrote to the World Bank to withhold a loan to the government over the “discriminatory policy” of keeping pregnant girls out of school.

Invest more in sex education

Nima Maghendi, founder and CEO of Okoa New Generation, an organization that builds capacity for girls who have dropped out of school because of pregnancy, said the most important next step now is to focus on prevention efforts.

“Most of the girls who get pregnant in schools lack basic sex education,” Majendi said. “While we applaud this development, the most important step now is to increase investment in sex education and raise awareness among students about the impact of teen pregnancy and child marriage and encourage them to stay in school.”

The World Bank said last year that annually more than 5,000 pregnant girls in Tanzania were prevented from continuing their studies, as well as from returning to school after giving birth.

Proponents of the ban argued that allowing pregnant girls to continue to study would promote “mixing” among students and result in more girls becoming pregnant. Although there is no evidence to support this, studies have found that a lack of sex education and poverty can strongly influence the likelihood of girls becoming pregnant into their teens in Tanzania.

‘The right to education’

Earlier this year, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said girls who became pregnant while in school said the men had taken advantage of their financial needs. They reported that men, often taxi drivers on motorcycles, offered them to buy basic goods or take them to school in exchange for sex.

School officials and teachers often used the country’s Education Act and Education Expulsion Regulations 2002 to expel girls. Regulations allow for expulsion when the student has committed a crime “against morals” or if the student has entered into a marriage.

In its research in July and August, Human Rights Watch found that some girls were expelled shortly before they took national qualification exams in Form 4, the last year of middle school, after schools administered mandatory pregnancy tests shortly before or in the middle of those tests.

Tanzania is now one of the last two countries in Africa to lift the ban on pregnant girls from getting an education. Only Equatorial Guinea still maintains this policy after Sierra Leone backed away from it last year.

Years of studies in several African countries have shown that simply removing the policy that denies girls the right to an education was simply not enough, said Elaine Martinez, senior researcher in the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch.

“A policy or legal framework should be put in place so that girls who have been effectively denied an education and told they cannot return to school due to pregnancy or maternity, can claim their right to an education,” Martinez said.

“Having a framework that specifically states their right to education and articulates what school officials and Ministry of Education officials locally and at all levels need to do to ensure this is critical.”

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