Tanzania’s President Magufuli is facing widespread criticism from human rights organisations following comments he made on Thursday at a public rally about how girls who become pregnant should not be allowed to return to school.
President Magufuli was quoted as saying: “In my administration, as long as I am president no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school. We cannot allow this immoral behaviour to permeate our primary and secondary schools never.”
“After calculating some few mathematics she’d be asking the teacher in the classroom ‘let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby’. After getting pregnant, you are done!
“If we were to allow the girls back to school, one day we would find all girls in Standard One going home to nurse their babies.”
These worrying statements were backed up yesterday by Tanzania’s Home Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba, who warned civil society organisations advocating for teenage mothers’ education that they would be deregistered if they continue campaigning on this issue.
Tanzania’s ban on pregnant girls attending state primary and secondary schools dates back to 1961, and according to a 2013 report by the Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR), more than 55 000 schoolgirls have been expelled from school over the last decade for being pregnant.
Although some more affluent families have been able to pay for their daughters to attend private school, the majority of girls have had to miss out on the rest of their education.
Civil society organisations including Equality Now argue that denying girls who have become mothers access to education is a violation of their human rights, and is a form of discrimination as highlighted by the UN Human Rights Council in their recent report, “Realisation of the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl.”
The right to education plays a pivotal role in development, both of the individual and society. It opens up access to information on protection, opportunities and other fundamental rights, and is highly linked to personal, social and economic empowerment.
Barring teenage mothers from education not only perpetuates discriminatory gender norms, but is also an indication of government failures to address the root cause of sexual violence against adolescent girls.
Efforts to eradicate violence against girls and women in Tanzania need to be increased, and laws against perpetrators of sexual violence have to be better enforced. More also needs to be done to alleviate the stigma and discrimination endured by pregnant girls and survivors of sexual violence and exploitation.
Girls’ human rights to health, life and right to equality and non-discrimination must be guaranteed by providing them with quality education, and to sexual and reproductive health care information, services and goods.
The Tanzanian government and President John Magufuli should ensure that all school settings across the country are free from sexual violence and that holistic programming is in place to prevent and address sexual violence as outlined in the Global Guidance to Address School Related Gender Based Violence.
Education is key to eliminating poverty and denial of education is counter to any proposals aiming to improve society. Around one in four females in Tanzania is illiterate and the country’s illiteracy rate rose by one 1 percent to reach 23percent in 2015. By only punishing pregnant girls and denying them their education, the government is penalising them on the basis of gender and is curtailing their futures so they are likely to remain trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Providing access to child care for girls who become mothers should be a state priority, as should the provision of other vital support services so that they can return to school. Of particular urgency is guaranteeing girls’ rights to access post-rape health care information and services, including those necessary to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as ante-natal care.
People wanting to join the conversation on social media can use the hashtag #StopMagufuli. Many are urging President Magufuli to withdraw his damaging statements and take steps to ensure the well-being and future prospects of all girls across Tanzania.
- Christa Stewart is Equality Now programme manager, End Sexual Violence, and Justice for Girls. Twitter: @equalitynow