Panafrican News Agency

Tanzania's pregnant student ban harms thousands: HRW

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) – Tanzania's ban on pregnant students and adolescent mothers attending school has denied tens of thousands of girls their right to education, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

Public schools across mainland Tanzania conduct compulsory pregnancy testing on female students and expel pregnant girls before they complete their compulsory education, HRW said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the human rights group said since June 2017, the late President John Magufuli and his successor, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who took office in March 2021, have enforced an official ban against students who are pregnant or are mothers.

“Tanzania’s girls are suffering because the government insists on an arbitrary policy that is ending their education, humiliating and isolating them, and destroying their futures,” said Elin Martinez, senior children’s rights researcher at HRW. “The government should urgently end this inhumane policy and allow pregnant students and mothers back in school.”

HRW said in July and August it interviewed 30 girls and women ages 16 to 24. All had been expelled from school or stopped attending primary or secondary school between 2013 and 2021 because they were pregnant.

The statement said school officials and teachers are the primary enforcers of the government’s policy, often in ways that humiliate and stigmatise girls, as well as their parents and guardians.

Most of those interviewed had been tested for pregnancy at school or at a local hospital or dispensary, and then summarily expelled.

HRW said a number of girls were expelled just before completing lower secondary education, a milestone for many students given the country’s low retention rates in secondary education.

Several were unable to take national qualifying exams in Form 4, the last year of lower secondary school, because schools conducted pregnancy tests just before or in the middle of these exams.

Citing the example of a 16-year-old-girl in Mongoro region in 2020 who was expelled before her last two Form 4 exams, HRW quoted her as saying: “They simply said because I was pregnant … I was supposed to be kicked out of school even though I was left with only two exams. I really don’t know what they were thinking …. They didn’t even want to hear me out. They just kicked me out of school.”

"Most girls and women interviewed were not enrolled in training programmes or alternative education centres. Several were enrolled in non-formal tailoring training, and a couple attended a nongovernmental school that supports girls who have been expelled from public schools," the statement said.

In 2020, the Tanzanian government announced that it would allow students who were pregnant or were mothers to enroll in a parallel accelerated education program, described as “alternative education pathways”.

This programme will be expanded with US$180 million of the World Bank’s US$500 million loan for Tanzania’s Secondary Education Quality Improvement Programme (SEQUIP).

-0- PANA MA 7Oct2021