School pregnancies in Namtumbo District is a nerve-racking story to both teachers and government authorities. It’s a comedy that begins somewhere and ends in thin air, to the bewilderment of school authorities…
“This problem is simply a comedy whose end is puzzling. There are many factors contributing to it, including the life style of the people where parents consider it as something normal,” says Lydia Herbert, the District Secondary School Academic Officer.
The magnitude of the problem is seen from reports of nine secondary schools where cases of school girl pregnancies are still pending in court. And they might remain pending in court perhaps in our life time.
“As teachers we’re obliged to report cases of school girl pregnancies to Ward Executive Officers entrusted to take legal measures against alleged suspects. Once the cases reach the corridors of a court of law, they simply end there,” says Baraka Kapinga, the deputy headmaster of Nasuri Secondary School.
Nasuri is one of the secondary schools in Namtumbo district worst-hit by school girl pregnancies. With a student population of 691, last year alone this school recorded 26 cases of pregnancies where the affected girls ended up as drop-outs.
“As required by law, we reported the incidents to the Ward Executive Officer who has the power to prosecute the suspected offenders. To-date no action has been taken against the perpetrators. All is quiet,” Kapinga says.
Lucas Mpwaga, the headmaster of Mgombasi Secondary School says it is difficult to punish the alleged criminals since they collude with parents of the impregnated girls to hide their sins.
“Arresting the suspects has generally been difficult for parents who want their daughters to get married and receive something in terms of dowry. So the cases submitted to court end dramatically,” he says.
Last year Mgombasi Secondary School recorded six cases of girl pregnancies compared to eight cases which occurred in 2010.
An interesting incident, according to school authorities, happened last year at Rwinga Secondary School where a pregnant girl student was withdrawn from school by her parents and transferred to an unknown destination.
“If such incident occurs it becomes more difficult even to punish the suspected offenders because you can’t trace them wherever they are,” says Geoffrey Chikatizo,” the school’s headmaster.
He says that efforts to hunt down such criminals have always proved abortive “because parents say that their daughters have been impregnated by petty traders pedaling goods in the villages.
“Under these circumstances, cases brought before courts remain unheard as the suspects are nowhere to be found,” explains Achilles Hyera, deputy headmaster of Nahimba Secondary School in Mkongo ward.
“Last year we recorded three cases of girl pregnancies at our school. To-date they’re still pending in court and the whereabouts of the affected girl students is not known,” Hyera says.
“It’s all like a comedy whose beginning and end are perplexing,” comments Herbert, the district’s in-charge of academics in secondary schools.
A cross-section of heads of secondary schools interviewed attributed the problem of school pregnancies to lack of awareness on the importance of education on the part of both parents and children.
“Some parents consider schooling as a waste of time for their children and, therefore, collude with suspects to halt any attempts of prosecution in a court of law,” says Kapinga.
Ruvuma Regional Education Officer Paulina Mkonongo puts Namtumbo and Tunduru districts into the category of “extreme cases” when it comes into the issue of parents’ awareness on the importance of education.
“We can’t say all parents lack awareness on the importance of education, but Namtumbo and Tunduru districts are extreme cases where some parents consider education as a waste of time,” she says.
Poverty and the mode of life of some Namtumbo residents have a direct bearing to school girl pregnancies, say education authorities. For instance, during the farming season many parents stay in the farms leaving household responsibilities and the search for food under their children.
The children are forced under such a prevailing environment to struggle hard to make ends meet. The situation compels some school girls left in homes while their parents are away in the farms, to look for male friends who would support them.
“It’s this precarious situation – the struggle to survive under a hostile environment -- which places school girls into ending up with pregnancies,” education authorities say.
Donata Francis Mhagama, the headmistress of Kimoro Secondary School in Luchili ward is deeply concerned with the plight of school girls ending up as drop-outs.
“In a nation in which women constitute a larger percentage of the population, it’s unthinkable for them to be left in the mainstream development process of the country. We want them to get education to prepare them as agents of change,” she says.
Mhagama’s school last year recorded a single incident in which a Form One school girl reported while pregnant.
“We call for concerted efforts to end this scourge of girl pregnancies in our schools which impedes the education of the girl child,” Mhagama explains.
Namtumbo secondary school teachers and church leaders have enhanced the teaching of the subject of Life Skills to enable students understands the consequences of engaging in sex at a tender age while at school.
“We have even invited church leaders to teach lessons of child upbringing, emphasis being placed on the girl child to avoid early sex,” Mhagama said.
All in all, as a nation, Tanzania needs to take deliberate measures to fight the plague of school girl pregnancies to enable girls from every social stratum have a chance for education, a fundamental human right for every citizen.