(PRESS RELEASE) Five schoolgirls who became pregnant and their parents were arrested last week following a local government directive, despite no laws forbidding teenagers from becoming pregnant. Everyone was later released on bail.
The arrests took place in Tandahimba District in the Mtwara region of Tanzania. A directive was later issued for the arrest of the men who impregnated the girls after they went into hiding.
Said Evelyne Opondo, Senior Regional Director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Arresting pregnant schoolgirls and denying them their right to education is cruel, humiliating and discriminatory.
“Preventing girls from continuing their education has a significant impact on their personal and academic lives, while adding unnecessary shame. Punishing these girls is not a solution to the problem.
"The Center for Reproductive Rights calls upon the government of Tanzania to denounce the arrest and detention of pregnant school girls as unlawful and inhumane. We vow to fight for the rights of adolescent girls in Tanzania."
In June 2017, Tanzanian President John Magufuli said students who become pregnant should not be allowed to finish their studies after giving birth, sparking outrage from human rights groups in Tanzania and in the region. In reaction to Magufuli’s directive, an online petition gathered hundreds of signatures calling for Magufuli to retract his statement and set up a legal structure to allow pregnant students to continue their studies after giving birth.
Tanzania implemented a free education policy for high school to ensure all children and adolescents have access to education. However, the policy does not extend to adolescents that become pregnant.
Teenage pregnancies are on the rise in Tanzania. The 2015-2016 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey found that 1 in 4 women aged 15 to 19 are mothers. Forty percent of women ages 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence, and almost 20 percent have experienced sexual violence. This is compounded by the fact that in Tanzania 1 in 5 women have an unmet need for contraception, and 1 million women have unintended pregnancies each year. Further, most schools often lack comprehensive sexuality education, with students reporting that they do not have the information they need to prevent pregnancy. Currently, there is no national sexuality education curriculum in mainland Tanzania.
In 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights released Forced Out: Mandatory Pregnancy Testing and the Expulsion of Pregnant Students in Tanzanian Schools, a publication which documented that school officials in Tanzania were conducting pregnancy tests in order to expel pregnant students, thus depriving them of their right to education. The same publication pointed out that annually, an estimated 8,000 female students dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Mandatory pregnancy testing is a serious infringement of girls’ rights to privacy and autonomy to make their own decisions.
The report recommended that the Tanzanian parliament strengthens their human rights framework and amend the education act to prohibit the expulsion and exclusion of adolescent girls from schools on the basis of pregnancy.