DAR-ES-SALAAM, Tanzania: Nov 22, 2021: Today, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) convenes to hear a complaint filed by rights organizations against the United Republic of Tanzania for the systematic discrimination of girls within the country’s school system. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania are representing six Tanzanian girls who have been expelled from school for being pregnant. The goal of the action is to end these regressive and discriminatory school policies for all the female students in Tanzania.
The case challenges multiple human rights and gender equality violations against schoolgirls in Tanzania that include mandatory pregnancy testing, expulsion of pregnant and married girls, denial of an education post-childbirth, illegal detention of pregnant girls, and the lack of access to reproductive and sexual health information and services in schools.
Tanzania’s education system is based on exclusion, oppression, and blatant gender segregation of female students, and has adversely affected thousands of pregnant students each year, according to the complaint. Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimates that 15,000 girls in Tanzania drop out of school annually due to pregnancy. Data from Tanzania’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training reveals that in 2012, 2,433 girls dropped out of primary school while 4,705 dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy. Tanzania also has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world with 37% of girls marrying before the age of 18, which automatically subjects them to school expulsions based on nationwide school policy.
Fulgence Massawe, Director of Advocacy and Reforms at the Legal and Human Rights Centre, based in Tanzania explained how the country’s education system pervasively discriminates against schoolgirls: “Even when there is no national law or policy that explicitly mandates expulsion of pregnant girls from school, they are expelled and permanently excluded from re-entering the formal education system even after giving birth. In some cases, pregnant schoolgirls have been detained illegally and treated as potential or actual criminals,” said Massawe.
Martin Onyango, Head of Legal Strategies for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said “Lack of access to reproductive health information and services is an infringement on the rights of the schoolgirls and it is a major driver of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines say that adolescents should have access to information about what services exist, when care should be sought and how to find care at the right time. However, in Tanzania, adolescents do not typically have access to reliable and complete information on pregnancy prevention or contraception.”
Evelyne Opondo, Senior Regional Director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights faulted Tanzania for the nation’s perpetual failure to protect its schoolgirls, and called upon the government to uphold its commitments to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) and other international and regional human rights instruments: “Tanzania must protect the rights of schoolgirls to education, equality, non-discrimination, freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and right to access sexual and reproductive health services.” Ms. Opondo also said, “The African Children’s Charter obligates States to ensure actions concerning children undertaken by any person or authority must be in the best interests of the children. Tanzania has thus failed in its obligation to consider the best interest of schoolgirls as they are forced to undergo mandatory pregnancy testing, expelled from school; and denied the ability to continue their education once they are married or have had children.”
The case also ties to the Africa Union Agenda 2063 which prioritizes education and empowerment of women and girls while addressing any form of discrimination against them. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also advocates for the elimination of gender disparities in education and provides that all girls and boys should have equal opportunity to enjoy education of high quality.
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.
A decision is expected sometime next year.
Kennedy Arthur Wekesa [email protected]