Dar es Salaam. Minister of Education Prof Joyce Ndalichako announced on Wednesday that the government was finally lifting a ban previously imposed on girls who get pregnant while at school that prevented them from continuing with studies in government-funded schools.
The announcement will be music in the ears of gender and human rights activists who since 2017 when the late President John Magufuli imposed the ban have been pressuring the government to lift it, noting that it was hurting girls more than it was helping them.
“I’ll today [November 24, 2021], issue a document highlighting when exactly should a student who drops from school because of pregnancy and other factors return to school,” Prof Ndalichako was quoted as saying. She was speaking in the capital Dodoma on a forum to improve Tanzania’s education. “I’ll do that today. There is no sleeping.”
Tanzania’s Education Act, and its education expulsion regulations of 2002, permit expulsion when a student has “committed an offence against morality” or if a student has “entered into wedlock.” Although the regulations are not explicit about pregnancy, ministry officials and school officials interpret pregnancy as constituting an offence against morality.
While the regulations have been in place since 2002, their enforcement has been lax with less expulsion on grounds of pregnancy taking place in many schools across Tanzania Mainland. But that changed in 2017, when Mr Magufuli, who died on March 17, 2021, said he does not want to see pregnant girls continuing studies at public schools.
“As long as I’m president, no pregnant students will be allowed to return to school,” President Magufuli gave the directive on June 22, 2017. He would repeat the words oftentimes in future. “The warranty to go to school be it secondary or primary is forbidden.”
Following the directive, school administrators started undertaking mandatory pregnancy testing for students and those found pregnant were immediately dismissed from schools. Many criticised the arrangement, calling it humiliating to students who are taken through the process without their consents.
Other students just decided not to go on with their studies upon learning that they were pregnant because they knew the country’s education system would not take them in.
In 2020, the Magufuli Administration announced that it would allow students who were pregnant or were mothers to enrol in a parallel accelerated education program, described as “alternative education pathways” under a World Bank-funded Tanzania’s Secondary Education Quality Improvement Program (SEQUIP) project.
Activists, however, criticised the arrangement, saying it was not only expensive but also students often have to travel long distances to the centres. According to Human Rights Watch, for example: “This perpetuates the same financial and access barriers that many girls face in secondary schools. Many centres don’t offer additional support for adolescent mothers, including child care.”
“My heartfelt congratulations to all who campaigned for this,” Zitto Kabwe, ACT-Wazalendo party leader and one of the loudest voices in the movement against the ban on pregnant girls, said in a Twitter post following Prof Ndalichako’s announcement. “All activists stood firm [on this] during a very tough time.”