PREGNANT SCHOOLGIRLS – MORE CHALLENGES

When President Magufuli announced early in 2017 that schoolgirls who get pregnant would no longer be allowed to return to school after giving birth, there was an outcry among gender activists and others (see TA 118).

These protests did not succeed in changing the President’s mind, however, and the new policy remains unchanged. Moreover, two other recent developments threaten to create more challenges for schoolgirls.

First, in his Independence Day speech the President announced he was going to pardon two convicted child rapists, the singers Nguza Viking, known as Babu Seya, and his son Johnson Nguza, known as Papii Kocha. Their conviction dated back to 2003, when they were found guilty of raping ten girls aged 6-8 years. After the pardon, the pair were released almost immediately, having served 13 years and have since paid a visit to the President at State House.

It has long been believed by many in Tanzania, particularly young people, that Babu Seya and his son were framed in retribution for actions that caused the then Minister of Foreign Affairs (and later President) Jakaya Kikwete to take great personal offence. During the election campaign in 2015, the leading opposition presidential candidate, Edward Lowassa of Chadema, called for their release. The president’s move is seen as a nod to this strand of public opinion. It also has the effect of suggesting, without ever saying so explicitly, that the current President believes the rumours, and differentiates his “firm hand” style of leadership from the perceived “bend-the-rules” approach of his predecessors.

However, there is little or no evidence to support this conspiracy claim, and the court that convicted the two singers in 2003 heard from a large number of witnesses including children and medical experts. The conviction was later upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The pardon drew praise from some quarters and criticism from others. The President received cheers from the crowd as he announced the decision in Dodoma, and much of the reaction on social media has been in support of his decision.

However, opposition MP, Zitto Kabwe, posted a series of tweets on twitter: “So we must believe street rumours instead of competent authorities? Then we will be a banana republic. … Same President ordered pregnant girls not to go back to school after delivery. … This is the message the president sends to girl child of Tanzania. … I am appalled by his decision to pardon convicted rapists.”

Petrider Paul, of Youth for Change, in Tanzania, said the pardons sent a “terrible” message to perpetrators of sexual violence and devalued their victims. “It is unfair to the victims of these crimes and it sends a bad message to perpetrators that they can get away with it,” she said.

Around the same time, the Regional Commissioner of Mwanza, John Mongella, called for pregnant schoolgirls to be arrested, “so that they will be forced to reveal the names of those who impregnated them”. At the opposite end of the country, in Tandahimba District, Mtwara Region, several pregnant girls were later arrested together with their parents and pressed to reveal names. The fathers are said to have gone into hiding.

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