What next after govt lifts ban on pregnant schoolgirls?

Saturday November 27 2021
Pregnan aPIC
By Jacob Mosenda

Dar es Salaam. A few days after the government allowed re-admission of school dropouts in the formal education system - including victims of child pregnancies - the debate has now shifted to how that decision can be functionally implemented. Some victims and education stakeholders, including parents, welcomed the decision which has also impressed the international community.
The World Bank - which froze a $300 million loan for girls’ education in protest against the ban a few years ago - hailed Wednesday’s decision, saying it was an important resolution that underscored the country’s commitment to support girls and young women and improve their chances at receiving a better education.
It stated that more than 120,000 girls drop out of school every year in Tanzania, 6,500 of them because they are pregnant or have babies.
The World Bank said it strongly supports policies that encourage girls’ education and that make it possible for all students to stay in school, but insisted on guidelines to help in the execution of the decision.
“The Bank looks forward to the issuance of guidelines that will enable pregnant girls and young mothers to continue their education and will support their implementation through our partnership with the government of Tanzania in the education sector,” reads part of the statement.
Other education stakeholders, including advocates for the right to education, also sparked debate and suggestions on what needs to be done to formalise the return of girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy. They said there exist laws and policies that justify the expulsion of pregnant teenagers from schools that needed to be reviewed for the new decision to be fully implemented.
They said there was a need to revive the Guidelines on How to Enable Pregnant School Girls to Continue with Their Studies (2009) which, they say, were prepared but not signed during the fifth-phase of government of the late President John Magufuli.
“The guidelines explain how a girl can return to school after giving birth,” HakiElimu executive director John Kalage told journalists in Dar es Salaam yesterday. He said despite the minister of education, science and Technology, Prof Joyce Ndalichako, issuing a document instructing the girl child to return to school, they were still not satisfied, especially on the execution part of it.
Dr Kalage said there were no clear steps that should be taken so that the victim could return to school without discrimination, confidently and protect the right of the unborn child to receive care from the mother.
“It is, therefore, important that the guidelines are developed and implemented early to provide an opportunity for girls who have dropped out of school in the past years such as 2019 and 2020 to return to formal school from the 2022 academic year,” said Dr Kalage. The education rights advocates are asking for inclusion in the provision for girls’ return to formal education after giving birth in the 2014 Education Policy and Education Act of 1978.
They also demand the inclusion of these elements in the Education Guidelines for the expulsion and suspension of pupils from schools (No. 295 of 2002). “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,” said Mr Fulgence Massawe, the director of Advocacy and Reforms at the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC).
Senior Regional Director for Africa at Centre for Reproductive Rights, Evelyne Opondo, said “Tanzania will be fulfilling its obligations to the multiple regional and international human rights instruments if the current administration reverses oppressive and discriminatory education policies.”
According to Education Statistics (BEST 2020) in 2015, at least 3,439 female students dropped out of school due to pregnancy, and the scenario led to a 90 percent increase to 6,533 in 2019. Ms Mwanaisha Hamisi, 19, a Form Three student at Shelui Secondary School in Iramba District, Singida region, dropped out of school in early August this year after she was found to be pregnant and expelled from school in accordance with existing laws.
Prior to the government’s decision to allow victims like her to return to school in the formal system, Ms Mwanaisha believed that her dreams had been lost because the living conditions at home would not allow her to join other recommended methods such as QT. “I really did not believe that the government had agreed to let us go back to school through the formal system, but I am now very happy. However, I do not know what I will need to do to get back to school and not be stigmatised by students who know about my pregnancy back in school,” she noted.