On September 15, 2022, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) ruled that Tanzania’s practice of expelling pregnant students from school violated adolescent girls’ human rights and recommended that Tanzania reform its education policies.
For years, the Tanzanian government has forced public school girls to undergo pregnancy testing and permanently expelled them if pregnant. This case challenges these discriminatory practices, which deny girls the opportunity to complete their education and pursue their personal and professional goals.
The lawsuit argues that Tanzania’s policies—which 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—discriminate against women and girls by preventing them from continuing their education.
Human Rights Watch estimates that 15,000 girls in Tanzania drop out of school annually 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.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) filed a complaint in this case before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) on June 16, 2019.
The case, brought on behalf of six Tanzanian schoolgirls who were expelled from school for being pregnant, claims the government’s regressive policies violated the human rights and gender equality of schoolgirls in Tanzania. The lawsuit further argues that Tanzania’s policies impede girls’ rights to education and are in violation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and other international and regional human rights instruments ratified by the country.
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. In addition, the Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) advocate for the elimination of gender disparities in education and provide that all girls and boys should have equal opportunity to enjoy education of high quality.
The ACERWC heard the case on November 22, 2021. Presenting before the Committee were the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Legal and Human Rights Centre, representing the complainants; the United Republic of Tanzania, represented by State Attorneys, on behalf of the State; and Amicus Curiae from the United Nations Working Group on Discrimination against Women.
Although days after the arguments at the ACERWC, the Tanzanian Minister of Education announced that the country would end the discriminatory policy that is the subject of this lawsuit, the Center and LHRC continued to pursue the case to ensure the change was lasting and permanent.
The hearing was finalized on March 29, 2022 following the interaction between the Committee and the minors who submitted evidence in the case.
On September 15, 2022, the ACERWC ruled that the practice of expelling pregnant students from school violated adolescent girls’ human rights and recommended that Tanzania reform its education policies. The ACERWC found that the United Republic of Tanzania violated its obligations as a state party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child—in particular, its obligations relating to non-discrimination; best interests of the child; protection of privacy, education, health and health services; protection against child abuse and torture; and protection against harmful social and cultural practices.
“Today’s victory is for adolescent girls in Tanzania who have perennially endured an oppressive and discriminatory education system for being pregnant or married,” said Martin Onyango, the Center’s Associate Director, Legal Strategies for Africa. “It is also a victory for millions of adolescent girls across the continent since 53 countries have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.”
Among the government’s human rights and gender violations cited were mandatory pregnancy testing, expelling pregnant adolescent girls from school, illegally detaining pregnant adolescent girls, completely banning adolescent girls from education post-childbirth, and failing to enable adolescent girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and information.
The ACERWC recommended that the United Republic of Tanzania:
- 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 ACERWC also recommended for Tanzania to undertake proactive measures toward eliminating child marriage and other harmful practices affecting girls, which would include addressing gender-based discrimination, poverty, and negative customary and societal norms. Further, the Committee directed Tanzania to provide survivors of sexual violence including child marriage with conducive reporting mechanisms, psychosocial support, rehabilitation, and reintegration services.
Tanzania is expected to report back to the ACERWC on measures to implement the ruling 180 days from the decision date.
Plaintiff(s): Legal and Human Rights Centre and the Center for Reproductive Rights
Respondent(s): United Republic of Tanzania
Center Attorney: Martin Onyango
|June 16, 2019
|The Center and LHRC file complaint in the case before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC).
|November 22, 2021
|The Center and LHRC, as well as State Attorneys representing the Tanzanian government, present arguments before the ACERWC.
|March 29, 2022
|Hearing in the case is finalized following the interaction between the Committee and the minors who submitted evidence in the case.
|September 15, 2022
|ACERWC rules that the practice of expelling pregnant students from school violated adolescent girls’ human rights and recommended that Tanzania reform its education policies.
News on the case:
- Center for Reproductive Rights and the Legal and Human Rights Centre File a Complaint Challenging the Expulsion and Exclusion of Pregnant Schoolgirls in Tanzania, 06.17.19
- Case Challenging Tanzania’s Discriminatory Expulsion of Pregnant Schoolgirls and Other Human Rights Violations is Heard, 11.22.21
- Center and its Partner Argue Against Tanzania’s Expulsion of Pregnant Girls from School, 11.24.21
- African Committee Recommends Tanzania Reform Policies That Barred Pregnant Girls from School, 09.20.22