DAR-ES-SALAAM, Sept 18, 2022: Today, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC, also “the Committee”), found that the United Republic of Tanzania violated multiple human rights and gender violations against adolescent girls. The violations include mandatory pregnancy testing, expulsion of pregnant adolescent girls from school, illegal detention of pregnant adolescent girls, total ban of adolescent girls from education post-childbirth, and failure to enable adolescent girls’ access sexual reproductive health (SRH) services and information.
Considering these gross violations, the Committee recommended the United Republic of Tanzania to reform its policies, including to:
- Immediately prohibit mandatory pregnancy testing in schools, health facilities and publicly announce the prohibition
- Undertake concrete steps to prevent expulsion of pregnant, married girls from schools by providing applicable laws and policies
- Investigate cases of detention of pregnant girls and immediately release detained pregnant girls under interrogation on who impregnated them
- Immediately stop the arbitrary and illegal arrests of pregnant schoolgirls
- Immediately re-admit schoolgirls who have been expelled due to pregnancy and wedlock
- Provide special support programmes to compensate for lost years and ensure better learning outcomes for the returned girls
- Provide adolescent sexuality education and friendly sexual reproductive health (SRH) services
The Committee’s decision was preceded by a case filed in June 2019 against Tanzania by Center for Reproductive Rights (the Center) and Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania (LHRC), on behalf of six adolescent girls who were expelled from school for being pregnant. The case sought to end the very regressive and discriminatory education policies. In 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights released a publication which documented how school officials in Tanzania were mandatorily expelling pregnant girls. Forced Out: Mandatory Pregnancy Testing and the Expulsion of Pregnant Students in Tanzanian Schools. The report also established how mandatory pregnancy testing is a serious infringement of girls’ rights to privacy and autonomy. Over 15,000 schoolgirls in Tanzania drop out of formal education system due to pregnancy, according to an advocacy lobby, Human Rights Watch (HRW). In 2012 alone, 2,433 girls dropped out of primary school while 4,705 dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy, according to Tanzania’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training. Tanzania also has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world with 37% of girls marrying before the age of 18.
Martin Onyango, Associate Director, Legal Strategies for Africa, Center for Reproductive Rights (the Center), said, “Today’s victory is for adolescent girls in Tanzania who have perennially endured an oppressive and discriminatory education system for being pregnant or married. It is also a victory to millions of adolescent girls across the continent since 53 countries have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The decision by the Committee largely contributes to ensuring stronger legal guarantees for sexual reproductive health and rights for adolescents in Africa. It’s time for Tanzania to review its education policies and remove pregnancy and wedlock as grounds for expelling girls from schools. School administrators should now be instructed to allow girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or wedlock to come back to school with no preconditions.”
Fulgence Massawe, Director of Advocacy and Reforms, Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania (LHRC), said, “Tanzania’s education system has always oppressed and excluded pregnant or married adolescent girls. It’s time for the government to now effect sustainable mechanisms for supporting pregnant and married girls who elect to continue their education. The government must urgently conduct extensive sensitization of teachers, health care providers, police among other actors, to ensure protection of pregnant and married girls.”
The Committee also recommended Tanzania undertake proactive measures towards elimination of child marriage and other harmful practices affecting girls including addressing the drivers of gender-based discrimination, poverty, and negative customary and societal norms. The Committee further recommended Tanzania create conducive reporting mechanisms for survivors of sexual violence including child marriage, and provide psychosocial support, rehabilitation, and reintegration services for the survivors.
Tanzania is expected to report to back to the Committee on measures taken to implement the above-mentioned decision within 180 days from the date the decision was released. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child requires States to observe the best interest of the child in every decision affecting them and as such, Tanzania has an obligation to protect the rights of adolescent girls to education, equality, non-discrimination, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and right to access sexual and reproductive health services.