On June 17, with our Tanzanian partner the Legal and Human Rights Centre, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child challenging the forced pregnancy testing and expulsion of pregnant and married school girls, and the lack of policy regarding re-entry.
Every year, thousands of adolescent girls in Tanzania are subjected to this invasive practice, which has been almost universally adopted by school administrators and is supported by government officials under the guise of curbing early pregnancies. Our complaint urges the Committee to find that these practices infringe on girls’ rights to education and equality and non-discrimination, and are not in line with the principle of the best interest of the child. We also request that the Government of Tanzania implement measures to ensure access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and information, a more effective way to prevent early pregnancies.
This complaint was born from a fact-finding report the Center published that documented the impact forced pregnancy testing and school expulsion has on adolescent girls’ lives. In our report, secondary school students Sikudhani and Tatu recalled being misled and surprised by school officials the first time they were forced to undergo a school-mandated pregnancy test. Neither girl was asked to give consent. “It’s an ambush order,” explained Tatu. Both girls were lined up with the rest of their female classmates to await their turn at testing, which sometimes includes an invasive physical exam as well as a urinary test.
If found to be pregnant, girls are immediately expelled and are often banned from returning to school after giving birth. Preventing adolescent girls from completing their studies leads to a cascade of harms that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and gender inequality: education is a critical pathway for a person’s ability to engage meaningfully in the economic, political, and social life of their country and their community.
In filing this case today, we seek to break this continuum, and demand that the government immediately cease forced pregnancy testing and the expulsion of pregnant and married girls. In its place, the government and schools must provide appropriate and necessary reproductive health education, information, and services to ensure that Tanzanian adolescent girls—and all youth—can make informed decisions about their reproductive health and future.