The case study of schoolgirl’s pregnancies in Handeni District of Tanga Region is, to put it mildly, too shocking to pass without the strong comments it deserves.
What has been revealed about schoolgirls pregnancies in the area, however, may not be all that new. It is the latest development on initiatives being made top cope with the problem which has spurred a new debate on this issue of national significance we tend to take for granted.
Sobering facts about schoolgirls pregnancies in Handeni are as follows:
We are told that last year 900 girls dropped out of school due to the pregnancy factor alone. It has also been reported that in one school which enrolled 96 boys and 96 girls four years ago, only 26 girls and 76 boys are expected to sit for the Form Four examinations at the end of the year.
We note from the above mentioned incident that more than 70 per cent of the girls have prematurely lost their self advancement opportunity due to untimely pregnancies, compared to less than 20 per cent of the boys who, for one reason or another, have also failed to complete their ordinary level studies. The contrast, however, is clearly significant.
The source of concern here is that what is happening in Handeni is not an isolated case. A similar situation prevails in many other districts, especially in rural areas.
Reasons behind this trend, which is not supposed to be entertained in the 21st Century society, are more or less the same and don’t seem to be contained at a desired pace.
At the core of the problem is failure by parents to appreciate and value the importance of education to girls. This is an old mentality, but one fails understand why it is still prevalent among some citizens in many areas of the country, 50 years after independence.
As a result of this attitude, we are told parents of schoolgirls who get impregnated are not upset by the otherwise bad news, but are willing to settle the matter at family level, and where possible, fix quick marriages between their daughters and those responsible for the pregnancies - that is where the latter opt not to be elusive.
As far as such parents are concerned, it is fine for their daughters to get married at the expense of terminating their studies as, after all, one of the life achievements of any woman is to be married and produce children! Behind this mentality, however, is the appetite for getting dowry, which today is paid in cash form - and some parents demand a substantial amount of what is derogatorily also referred to as bride-price. Is living in poverty enough reason to explain or rationalize this kind of behavior? Let sociologists give us some explanation on this one.
The question of moral degeneration is also cited as another reason behind this social problem. Cases of schoolgirls impregnated by randy adults supposed to be their parents are well documented.
The most disturbing trend however, is where the victims are put in this kind of situation by their teachers and close relatives at home, who are expected to play the role of guardians. This scenario simply reflects moral decadence at it worst. Does it not?
As hinted at the beginning, the Handeni case is attracting attention because of the latest developments related to the theme under discussion. A recently appointed District Commissioner, one Muhingo Rweyemamu, is reportedly tackling the problem of schoolgirls’ pregnancies head on.
We are told he has issued an order that school girls proven pregnant be arrested by police and interrogated to ensure they mention the men behind their ordeal, so that the latter can face the long arm of the law. Parents of the compromised girls who prefer to sweep this muck under the carpet are not spared either.
This stance has reportedly earned the DC some enemies and friends, although the number of the latter is said to be on the high side.
Human rights activists, religious leaders, and upright politicians are also giving him a pat on the back. We support him too, much as we recognize the fact that a lone ranger approach rarely solves problems of this nature. We think he needs a constitutional backing by including the right to education in the bill of rights expected to be part and parcel of the new mother law in the making.
Thereafter, a wide range of policies, subsidiary laws and even institutions can be put in place to effectively combat this outdated malpractice.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant(firstname.lastname@example.org)