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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Teen mothers: law weak, future grim

21st November 2012
Editorial Cartoon

Tanzania has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world. In a country of over 45 million people, almost a quarter of girls between 15 and 19 are already mothers or have begun childbearing, 800 of them expelled from school yearly.

Who is at fault? The unborn child who had no say whatsoever as to its own conception but will nonetheless be held responsible for ruining the concerned families’ lifestyles, or the mother, who is in this case but a teenager, seduced, oppressed and victimised or the other teenager or in most cases a perverted teacher.

Many argue however that the weak legal system based on a male chauvinistic culture is to blame. In fact only now is there a discussion to merely consider readmission of these teenage mothers into school. The policy to be revised is the Education and Vocational Training Policy of 1995 amidst arguments that suggest readmission of the girls may encourage more pregnancies.

These new mothers, who just nine months back were students with dreams and goals, but went through, without consent, a humiliating compulsory pregnancy check in school and then expelled or worse, jailed, like some common criminal under the unbelievably victimising reason that they reveal the child’s father, who may be a relative or a person of high social status or even a rapist for that matter.

Either way, such emotionally charged cases, even in the most developed countries are under reported, despite the professional coaxing of trained councilors, let alone brute interrogation of a terrified pregnant teen in jail.

Should the man responsible be identified, the law has only puny penalties against him such as fines between 300,000/- and 400,000/- or unbelievably, a jail term of not more than three years.  In most cases the girl’s family, her last hope for protection, will also betray her into early marriage after some meagre compensation from the man who, in a country with no definite law against domestic violence, will more likely than not abuse her.

Instead of comprehensive and evidence-based sexual education, including family planning methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies and protection from sexual violence which is prevalent within schools, they are with contempt, kicked out.

A committee formed by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training is currently engaging stakeholders to develop a revised policy, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), Mr Kassim Majaliwa, made the revelation while addressing the House recently.

When he was however asked as to the time frame, the minister replied: “…it is too early for the government to commit itself as to when it would start readmitting the girls…”

The response means that the more than 8000 girls that will this and every other year be forced out of school and condemned to a life of poverty and oppression in a society that objectifies them as sex symbols and then chastises them for being  pregnant, have no reassurance from the law that is supposedly meant to protect them.

Yet we claim to have the best interests of the girl students. The way we are going about the issue does not reflect those interests.

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