Pregnant school girls should go back to school after birthing - and should not be expelled. Why? Because “Tanzania needs skilled and well-educated women and men to take part in the development of the country. So, it cannot just stand aside while it is losing the most precious contribution of many young Tanzanian women to the development of the country because of early marriages and pregnancies...”
These are not my words. They’re the words of Tanzania’s ministry of Education.
I agree that there can be no compromise when it comes to keeping our pregnant girls in school. The ministry of Education, working jointly with stakeholders, developed guidelines in 2009/2010 to allow for pregnant school girls to return to school. I’m not talking of adult training centers that recently have been dubbed by the World Bank as ‘Secondary Education Quality Improvement Project’ (SEQUIP) proposal as an ‘Alternative Education Pathway.’ I mean like go-back-to-school-because-a-pregnant-school-girl-does-not-get-expelled. Instead, she is suspended.
What is surprising is that some key stakeholders in government, development partners and media are not seemingly aware that these guidelines exist. But it is clear that we do not need to reinvent the wheel.
As part of preparation of these guidelines, a team of experts from the ministry of Education and civil society embarked on a study tour of several countries where pregnant school girls are allowed back to school.
Additionally, the ministry organized open public discussions in eight (8) educational zones in Tanzania involving experts and stakeholders to debate this matter.
These educational zones were Eastern, Western, Northeastern, Northwestern, Southern Highlands, Lake and Central zones. The findings of the ministry were that, “generally, stakeholders agreed that, impregnated school girls be allowed back in school”.
This is also supported by a ‘Twaweza’ survey in 2016 which found that 71 percent of the respondents were in favor of pregnant girls going back to school. The guidelines document is like a manual that clearly instructs teachers, parents and the community on how to assist pregnant school girls to get back to school, avoid future pregnancies - and protect them.
The question is: why did the government and the World Bank not take this into consideration when developing the SEQUIP?
Let’s assume that for some reason, all stakeholders that the World Bank consulted – government and civil society - forgot (or never knew about) the guidelines... Aren’t there existing examples within Tanzania of successful re-entry of pregnant school girls?
The answer causes more alarm, in my view! The answer is: yes, there is a living example of this in Zanzibar where, since 2010, pregnant school girls are allowed back to school after giving birth.
And - according to the Tanzania Health and Demographic Survey 2015-16 - the rate of adolescent pregnancies is only eight percent. This is significantly lower than on the Mainland, whose rate is 27 percent!
And then there is always the argument that the World Bank’s job is not to focus on such internal policy matters. Well, gone are the days when the World Bank was just a bank!
Today, the Bank is guided by policies and frameworks. World Bank staff have to adhere to these policies and frameworks - and they are mostly technical. But, there is one important policy called the ‘Environmental and Social Framework’ (ESF) which I would like to refer to - and which, as of October 2018, applies to all new World Bank investment projects financing.
This policy is explicit in requiring the Bank and borrowers alike to focus on vulnerable, disadvantaged groups - and ensure that there are no risks that could hinder them from accessing the development benefit from a given WB-supported project.
So when people argue for the “Greater Good” - saying why hold up a $500 million WB soft loan that could benefit two million Tanzanian school children - this is the answer from the World Bank itself!
However we may argue this, the only area that remains open to debate is “morality.” But, even that rationally can still be argued that pregnant schoolgirls are not morally more bankrupt than their peers, nor have they committed an unpardonable sin.
All that we are really left with here is what nobody wants to say out; but let me say it, since I am on a roll. Making this loan conditional to allowing pregnant school girls back to school may be seen as an embarrassment to President John Magufuli who publicly said in July 2017: “we collect taxes from poor people in order to educate our children. Should I use that to educate mothers? No way! Let them shout, sing, whatever – I am the President!”
However this is not correct. The President is also human, and has strong views. But it is clear that the fate of thousands of girls goes beyond personal sentiments.
His statement caused a huge uproar, and was the reason for the initial suspension of the WB loan. So, allowing pregnant school girls back would go a long way to repair JPM’s personal image in an election year.
Allowing pregnant school girls back to school should never be about personal sentiments - or claiming a greater good at the detriment of the vulnerable; it is just the right thing to do.
Maria Sarungi Tsehai is a communication and media expert, founder of #ChangeTanzania