by Naomi Rouse
Civil Society ready to challenge the President on controversial education policy
The unequivocal statement by President Magufuli banning pregnant girls and young mothers from attending school is a setback for the ‘re-entry’ policy that had gained growing momentum in recent years. However, Tanzanian civil society and others are mobilising to oppose the ban.
The familiar arguments have been brought out: a breakdown in morality, an epidemic of pregnancies and classrooms full of pregnant girls, if you start to allow any young mothers to return to school. One CCM MP, Mr Keisy, envisaged a slippery slope towards liberalism: “We are supposed to be firm on these issues otherwise we will find ourselves approving same-sex marriage”. On the other hand, civil society organisations are highlighting girls’ vulnerability and prevalence of forced sex, girls’ constitutional rights to education, and the benefits to the whole community if pregnant girls are allowed to continue their education.
There is not an overt religious element to the debate, though one MP argued that “all religions are against this… after all, we have stringent legislation on this issue, why are we diverting from it? Why should we jail amorous men, but allow errant girls back to school?”
Opinions have not been split on gender lines, with some male politicians speaking out in support of the re-entry policy, and high-profile women opposing it, including former First Lady Salma Kikwete. However sexist arguments abound in the debate. One CCM MP challenged women MPs to tell the house if they started to engage in sexual activity while still in school. President Magufuli himself said the country would “reach a time when all the pupils in a class will be mothers and when it is time for learning they will need to go to breast-feed their children at their home”.
Salma Kikwete is perhaps a surprising opponent of girls returning to school, having established a high-profile women’s rights foundation, WAMA (Wanawake Maendeleo), with the mantra “treat every child as your own.”
Ms Nyimbo (Special Seats – CCM) pointed out in the parliamentary debate, political opposition to the re-entry policy is hypocritical because of vast disparities of wealth and power. “The fact is that if the daughter of an MP or any other well-to-do person gets pregnant while in school, chances are that that will not be the end of their educational journey. They are sure to be sent back to school after giving birth. Why should we lock out girls from poor families? How can we end the vicious cycle of poverty? Let’s be fair.”
There is a lot at stake. 55,000 girls are officially recognised to have left school due to pregnancy in the past decade, though this is likely to be significantly under-estimated. The most recent Tanzania Demographic Health Survey shows that 27 out of 100 girls in Tanzania have become pregnant by the age of 18. It is in no one’s interest to exclude girls from education, given the powerful benefits of education for girls’ income, family size and their ability to care for their families. In addition to the very pressing issue of sexual violence against girls, the question of reproductive health services for young people is still the elephant in the room.
Magufuli’s insistence that young mothers will never be allowed back to school while he is in power is a real test for Tanzanian civil society. A group of 26 organisations issued a joint statement against the ban, including one representing a further 50 member organisations. This is a sign that civil society action is better coordinated and has a stronger and more unified voice than in the past, but it could be a tough fight.
STOP PRESS: Policy draws criticism from African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
On 03 August 2017, the ACHPR Commissioner Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the United Republic of Tanzania and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, together with the Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, transmitted a Joint Letter of Appeal to the President of the United Republic of Tanzania regarding the statement made on 22 June 2017 to the effect that pregnant girls and teen mothers will not be allowed to attend school. The Joint Letter of Appeal expressed the view of the Commission and Committee that this statement runs the risk of undermining the right to education and the right to equality of girls, and urged the State to fulfil its obligations concerning these rights in terms of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Summary of media coverage of the issue
MPs split on proposal to allow teenage mothers back to school
Parliament was divided on the proposal to allow young mothers back to school. The Social Services and Community Development Committee and the Opposition party are pushing for a change in the policy. Former First Lady Salma Kikwete was one of the high profile opponents of the policy. Support for the policy emphasised girls’ welfare whereas those opposing the policy urged the importance of maintaining an ‘ethical society’ and protecting Tanzania’s culture and customs, which prohibit sex before marriage. (The Citizen)
JPM: No going back to school once you become a mother
Speaking at a ceremony to open the new Bagamoyo-Msata road, President Magufuli spoke out against allowing girls back to school, on the grounds that this would encourage other girls to be sexually active without worrying about the consequences. Magufuli dismissed the advocacy work of NGOs and said that they should open their own schools for pregnant girls, and that the government would never accept the girls back in government schools. (The Guardian)
Women react to Magufuli’s pregnant schoolgirl ban
An online petition has been set up and a pan African Women’s organisation is mobilising to get Magufuli to apologise and reverse his comments regarding education of young mothers.
Jackie Lomboma, spoke out about her personal experiences, saying “It is a big disappointment to hear such a statement from our President”. Jackie became pregnant when she trusted a boy who promised to ask his parents to help fund her secondary education. She was kicked out of school and home, later getting the chance to go back to school. She has since set up a centre for teenage mothers in Morogoro. (The Guardian)
Opposition Coalition faults JPM stance on pregnant schoolgirls
Shadow Minister for Education, Science and Vocational Training, Suza Lyimo said she has been saddened by the president’s statement because all students had a constitutional right to education. She said they have been advocating the matter for several years, and there is already a government document explaining how pregnant girls should be allowed back to school. Zambia and Kenya have approved similar policies, and the Deputy Minister for Education had previously informed the National Assembly that the government was working on guidelines on the matter.
But President Magufuli said that the debate was closed, and the government would never allow young mothers back into school while he is in office. (The Guardian)
Teen mothers: what JPM ban portend for girls
In response to the parliamentary debate about the education of young mothers, the Citizen profiled the story of a young girl who at the age of 8 had gone to Dar es Salaam under the promise of being given an education, but ended up working as a house girl. Her neighbour offered to take care of her, but after several months said he could not take care of her for free, as she was not a relative. He made her pregnant when she was 12, and she enrolled in the MEMKWA programme in 2014, but the article highlights that some officials are even applying Magufuli’s ban to MEMKWA classes. (The Citizen)
“After getting pregnant you are done” – no more school for Tanzania’s mums-to-be
Civil society organisations are mobilising in response to Magufuli’s ban on educating young mothers. A 2013 report from the Centre for Reproductive Rights says that 55,000 pregnant girls have been expelled from school in the last decade. Equality now is supporting a coalition of over 20 organisations who have issued a joint statement against the ban. They cited success from Zanzibar where girls have returned to school without any evidence of an increase in pregnancies as a result of allowing girls back, and called for measures to address violence against girls which is a major cause of teen pregnancy. (The Guardian, UK)
Joint statement by coalition of civil society organisations on re-entry to school for girls after they have given birth
Twaweza published a joint statement from 26 organisations in support of the education of young mothers. The statement cites public opinion from Sauti za Wananchi surveys, showing 71% in favour of pregnant girls returning to school as well as referencing existing government policies which support the education of pregnant girls. The statement also highlights the prevalence of forced sex, quoting research which shows that 3 out of 10 girls are forced in their first sexual experience.