The World Bank said in a statement yesterday that the decision underscores Tanzania’s commitment to support girls and young women and improve their chances at receiving a better education.
“More than 12,000 girls drop out of school every year in the country, while 6,500 of them because they are pregnant or have children,” the statement read in part.
It said the World Bank strongly supports policies that encourage girls’ education and which make it possible for all students to stay in school. The bank looks forward to the issuance of guidelines that will enable pregnant girls and young mothers to continue their education, it said.
The bank vowed to support implementation of the new orientation through partnership in the education sector. “Making education better, safer and more accessible is critical to advance Tanzania’s social and economic development,” the statement asserted.
Similarly, a joint statement by the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and the Center for Reproductive Rights said the announcement has “finally ended the oppressive and grossly discriminatory school policy barring pregnant schoolgirls and adolescent mothers from continuing with their formal education.”
The advisory said the public declaration by the Minister for Education, Science and Technology Prof Joyce Ndalichako on Wednesday, “sends a strong signal to the schoolgirls and adolescent mothers that President Samia Suluhu’s administration is committed to ending the many regressive barriers that for years have undermined their fundamental rights to education, equality, non-discrimination, and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment.”
“While this verbal announcement by the Minister for Education demonstrates political goodwill towards ending systemic exclusion and discrimination of schoolgirls within Tanzania’s school system, it must be backed by written policy or guidelines, if not the law,” the statement affirmed, citing remarks from Fulgence Massawe, the director of advocacy and reforms at LHRC.
“In practice, this means public schools in Tanzania must stop expelling pregnant girls and start admitting adolescents,” the NGOs underlined.
The unexpected development comes just days after hearings in a case brought by the Center and LHRC at the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) against Tanzania. The organizations filed this case on behalf of six Tanzanian girls who were expelled from school for being pregnant. The case challenges multiple human rights and gender equality provisions against schoolgirls, including mandatory pregnancy testing, expulsion of pregnant girls, denial of an education at post-childbirth, illegal detention of pregnant girls, plus the lack of access to reproductive and sexual health information and services in schools.
The case is seeking lasting change in Tanzania, secured into government policy or law, the plaintiffs noted.
“Data from Tanzania’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training reveals that in 2012, 2,433 girls dropped out of primary school while 4,705 dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy. Tanzania also has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world with 37 per cent of girls marrying before the age of 18, which automatically subjects them to school expulsions based on nationwide school policy.”
Evelyne Opondo, senior regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights said that Tanzania will be fulfilling its obligations to the multiple regional and international human rights instruments if the current administration permanently reverses oppressive and discriminatory education policies.
“While today’s news is very welcome, we will continue to pursue our case until this change is lasting and permanent,” she declared.
Besides the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), Tanzania has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Maputo Protocol. All these legal instruments bind Tanzania to uphold the sanctity of all rights that pertain to women and girls.
Announcing the decision, Prof Ndalichako said pupils dropping out of school following pregnancy and childbirth will now be facilitated to resume studies in the formal school system.
The government will provide better ways on how students who dropped out of school especially for pregnancy and childbirth will go back to school, an initiative targeting primary and secondary school girls. They will be allowed to continue their studies in the formal system after giving birth, the minister intoned.