Friday, July 21, 2017

Let’s be fair in judgement on teenage mothers


By Telesphor Magobe

There have been varied opinions about schoolgirl pregnancies before and after President John Magufuli talked about it a few weeks ago. He said that during his tenure in office no teen mother would be allowed back into a public school after delivery.

He is also quoted by some media outlets as pointing an accusing finger at those, who want teenage mothers to be allowed back into school after delivery, saying they encourage teenage pregnancies.

“They can join vocational training centres if they want to, but not in the normal public primary or secondary schools,” he stressed.

His stand and the way he said it, however, have attracted widespread criticism from gender and human rights activists, who find it as a blow to the girl child in a patriarchal society. Since then, there are those, who support Dr Magufuli’s stand and others, who criticise him – each side giving reasons for what they stand for.

But if you look at this issue critically, you will find that, when we talk about teenage pregnancies, we refer to girls, who according to our laws, are persons below 18 years old.

Section 4(1) of the Law of the Child Act, 2009 states that “A person below the age of eighteen years shall be known as a child.” Section 4(2) of the Sale of Goods Act (Cap 214) refers to such persons as infants or minors – that’s persons, whose age is under legal responsibility. According to Section 11 of the Law of Contract Act (Cap 345), only a person of the age of majority – meaning above 18 years old – and of sound mind, who is not disqualified by the law, can enter into a contract, otherwise it will be void [(Section 11(2)].

Section 4(2) of the Law of the Child Act, 2009 provides further that “The best interest of a child shall be the primary consideration in all actions concerning a child whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts or administrative bodies.”

Section 41 of the same law states that: “A parent in respect of who an order of parentage has been made, shall have a duty to contribute towards the welfare and maintenance of the child to supply the necessities for survival and development of the child.”

This duty includes that of educating one’s own daughter irrespective of what has happened to her until she reaches the age of majority so that she too can be at the same level of her peers as far as education opportunities are concerned.

After all, the government loses nothing to educate schools girls who became pregnant.

We mean the girls, who according to paragraph 52(I)(ii) of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi Election Manifesto (2015-2020), which reads, “Wasichana wote wa elimu ya msingi wanaoacha shule kwa sababu ya kupata ujauzito wataendelea na masomo” (All girls in primary school, who are forced out of school because of pregnancy shall continue with studies). This paragraph focuses on modern education with bearing on science and technology and its special place in facilitating the nation’s modern economy and self-reliance.

“In recognition of this truth,” the paragraph states, “CCM gives education a special priority to advance this rector.”

I, too, think teenage mothers should be allowed back into school after delivery because I believe infants or minors often choose to do or not do something either because of peer influence, undue influence, deception or force and even if some of them may acquiesce in premarital sex, their responsibility may be lessened depending on the circumstances they were in. For teenagers, premarital sex is a grey area - where things are not distinctly black or white.

But even if a schoolgirl acquiesced into premarital sex, it doesn’t follow that she should be denied informal education.

During teenage, we don’t expect that one will have full knowledge of the consequences of what they do. After all, teenagers, according to our laws, are minors and these are under the age of full legal responsibility.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be too hard to these little ones. This doesn’t mean that we should let them drive us to where they want us to. But that we should be fair in our judgement when we deal with them because the way they look at things is not the way we do. While we have a comparative advantage as adults, they are not.

So, when we look at the type of environment in which most of these girls get pregnancy, we must be able reason well, understand their situation and be fair in our judgement.

The issue of schoolgirl pregnancies requires that we engage in honest efforts to address it rather than punish the girls because adolescence is a time of discovering through trial and error of what one is in relation to others. This is the time referred to as “foolish age” – the age one does things because of what one is trying to discover in one’s life and not necessarily as one’s choice made out of full knowledge, consent and responsibility.

Mr Magobe is a sub-editor with The Citizen and a lawyer