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Why it’s right to ban pregnant schoolgirls from studies

Saturday July 29 2017
pic pregnant

 A Google search that the author of this article made, of the phrase “school pregnancies in Tanzania” (25th July 2017 at noon) produced about 2 million results.

If this number of the search results means anything about the topicality of the phrase, it at least implies that we Tanzanians have not yet taken time to study and discuss critically the Convention on the Rights of the Child Articles 28 and 29.

After following closely the school pregnancy debate in the print media, I have come to learn that neither side of the debate has made a reference to the very two articles of the convention, which refer to a bone of contention between the two sides of the debate.

The bone of contention has been the issues of access to, and quality of, education as a right even for the pregnant schoolgirls, as well as school discipline as far as sexual morality or ethics are concerned.

It is instructive to note that a random sampling of the search results (about 500,000) shows that almost none (only five per cent) have made reference to the two articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

One would expect that the ‘education bone of contention’, in terms of ‘discipline in education’ and ‘right to education’, would feature strongly on the basis of the two convention articles.

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Let me now quote the two articles, and then I will discuss the issue about school pregnancies in the light of the two articles, making reference to the arguments, which have been put forward by both sides of the debate so far.

Article 28 says “1. States parties recognise the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular: a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; (b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need; (c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means; (d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children; (e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.”

Under subsection two, States parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present convention.

“3. States parties shall promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.”

Article 29 says “1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; (b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations; (c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own; (d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin; (e) The development of respect for the natural environment. 2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.”

Now, any careful reader of the two articles will see that the key for interpreting the two articles is the sub-article or paragraph 2 of the Article 29. This sub-article or paragraph points out, or implies, that neither of the two articles (28 and 29) is to be understood in such a way that the freedom (individual or corporate) to run schools shall be interfered with, as long as the principle in paragraph 1 of Article 29 and the State’s education minimum standards are adhered to.

The principle set forth in paragraph 1 of Article 29 stipulates five norms: child’s full potential development; respect for human rights, freedoms and UN Charter’s principles; respect for one’s parents, country’s culture and values, and other civilizations; child’s preparation for a fully responsible and humanistic life, local or universal; and respect for integrity of creation.

The ‘right to education’ argument

In the debate, the ‘right to education’ argument is too lopsided. It ignores the other side of the coin, namely every right has a corresponding duty or responsibility. To ignore the responsibility/duty side is to imply that school girls, as well as school boys, should not be taught to discipline themselves (or be disciplined, for that matter) on the road towards responsible freedom in life. Such a lop-sided education (one which ignores or blames responsibility on others, e.g. social environment) will prepare egoistic, selfish or irresponsible citizens. In fact, it will go against the convention’s Article 28 which, among other things, says “State parties shall in particular … (e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates. 2. States parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention”; as well as Article 29 which, among other things, says that “States parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to …(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living,…”.

Now, Tanzania has been putting a lot of efforts to ensure that regular school attendance and drop-out rates are at acceptable levels. In fact, attendance counts as one of the criteria for monitoring and evaluating the progress of the pupils up to the university.

Also, Tanzania has been administering discipline with regulations to ensure consistency with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the convention.

For that reason, insisting on pregnant schoolgirls’ right to go back to school for education is to encourage them to be irresponsible to the rights of others and to those of the nation.

In other words, they will never learn to be responsible about the consequences of their decisions, no matter how these decisions affect others, namely their families and the nation.

The ‘discipline for education’ argument

The ‘discipline for education’ argument needs holistic and humane premises. In other words, discipline should be inculcated on the basis of humanistic, moral and spiritual values, rather than or not just on the basis of functionalistic or economic motives.

The language that describes education in terms of ‘economic investment’ and looks at school children as ‘future resources’ is a language, which misses the whole point of the philosophy of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We all know how the otherwise meaningful disciplinary campaign for ‘Hapa Kazi Tu’ may fall into the danger of reducing work, including learning/intellectual work, to drudgery.

For that reason, Article 28 of the Convention alerts us against this when it says in paragraph 2 that “…States parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present convention”.

The philosophy behind the Convention on the Rights of the Child is very well stated in the preamble to the convention by “recognising that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding, (and) by considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in …. the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity”.

Now, as Tanzanians, we are faced with a sociolinguistic quandary: who should use which language, when, how and where with or about school children concerning matters of discipline in education and in sexuality?

Unless we resolve this quandary, we shall never implement fully and appropriately our commitment to the convention as a nation. As a consequence, both poverty (resulting from no quality functional education) and sexual licentiousness (resulting from no ethical education in sexuality) will continue to pester our culture and our identity as a nation, which our Founding Fathers, Nyerere and Karume, aspired for and taught us to build.

Dr Kassala is a lecturer at the Eastern Africa Statistical Training Centre . Mobile phone: 0757 72 22 74

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