“In my administration, as long as I am president… no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school…”
At one public rally in June 2017, the late Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli made a statement that rubbed a great many people the wrong way.
In his usual tough demeanor, President Magufuli had said that students who become pregnant will not be given a second chance to finish their education even after giving birth.
“…We cannot allow this immoral behaviour to permeate our primary and secondary schools… never,” Magufuli said. To President Magufuli, it was immoral in the first place for young girls to be sexually active.
“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!” Magufuli posed, adding “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.”
Magufuli faced widespread criticism from human rights organisations. For them, the government was prosecuting girls who are victims of sexual exploitation and violence, whilst allowing adult perpetrators to go free.
The activists claimed that Tanzanian government is infringing on the human rights of adolescent girls.
Christa Stewart of Equality Now, an organisation that aspires to creating a just world where women and girls have the same rights as men and boys, says that 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 policy to ban pregnant girls from attending state primary and secondary schools dates back to 1961, although the law was originally passed in 2002. Under the policy, school girls are often subjected to mandatory pregnacy tests.
A 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), indicate that more than 55,000 schoolgirls have been expelled from school over the last decade for being pregnant.
Although the rich families have been able to pay for their daughters to attend private schools, majority of the girls come from poor families which cannot afford hefty fees.
”Non-governmental organisations that have been campaigning for pregnant girls to be allowed to continue with their studies at government schools should open private schools and enrol those teenage mothers,” Magufuli challenged rights groups that had criticised him over the ban.
Magufuli’s second in command, Samia Suluhu, took over the reigns after his death on March 17, 2021. Should the new Tanzania President allow pregnant girls back to school?