Banning teenage mothers in Tanzania from school is a human rights violation.
23 June 2017
Equality Now is greatly concerned about the unacceptable comments made yesterday by Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli, who stated that girls in Tanzania who become pregnant should not be allowed to attend school.
President Magufuli was quoted at a public rally saying:
"In my administration, as long as I am president ... no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school. We cannot allow this immoral behaviour to permeate our primary and secondary schools ... never.”
"After calculating some few mathematics she’d be asking the teacher in the classroom ‘let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby’... After getting pregnant, you are done!”
“If we were to allow the girls back to school, one day we would find all girls in Standard One going home to nurse their babies.”
Tanzania's ban on pregnant girls attending state primary and secondary schools dates back to 1961.
Denying girls who have become mothers access to education is a violation of their human rights, as recently underscored by the Human Rights Council in their recent report: Realization of the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl.
The ban also exposes them to other human rights violations like child marriage and female genital mutilation.
Access to education for many adolescent girls is curtailed due to sexual violence and the consequences of such violence, such as pregnancy and forced motherhood.
Equally important is that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable for their actions.
Christa Stewart, Manager of Equality Now's Justice for Girls and End Sexual Violence Programs, says:
“Equality Now calls on the Tanzanian government and Tanzanian President John Magufuli to ensure that all school settings across the country are free from sexual violence and that the government ensures holistic programming to prevent and address sexual violence as outlined in the Global Guidance to Address School Related Gender Based Violence."
"The government of Tanzania must respect international law and immediately lift the ban of pregnant girls to attend school. Pregnant girls must not be discriminated against and especially those who have been subject to sexual violence or exploitation. This right has recently been reasserted by the Human Rights Council."
"The government of Tanzania must re-double efforts to eradicate violence against girls and women, and enforce laws against perpetrators of sexual violence. It must also launch campaigns at a nationwide level to alleviate the stigma and discrimination endured by pregnant girls and survivors of sexual violence and exploitation."
"Girls’ human rights to health, life and right to equality and non-discrimination must be guaranteed by providing them with access to acceptable and quality education, and to sexual and reproductive health care information, services and goods. Of particular urgency is guaranteeing girls’ right to access post rape health care information and services including those necessary to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as ante-natal care."
In addition to being a human rights violation, education is key to eliminating poverty and denial of education is counter to any development proposal aiming to improve society.
Around one in four females in Tanzania are illiterate and the country’s illiteracy rate rose by one per cent to reach 23 per cent in 2015.
According to a 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), more than 55,000 Tanzanian schoolgirls have been expelled from school over the last decade for being pregnant. While some wealthier families are able to send their daughters to private schools, the majority of affected girls do not return to education.
Christa Stewart says: "The government of Tanzania must make access to child care a priority for girls who become mothers, as well as other support necessary so that they can return to school if they wish to do so. By only punishing pregnant girls and denying their education, the government is curtailing their futures and penalizing them on the basis of their gender."
"The international community must call on the Tanzanian government to immediately reverse this wrong move and ensure that it fully comply with its international legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of girls. In particular, take the urgent necessary steps to guarantee their rights to non-discrimination, equality, physical integrity, education and privacy."
Equality Now is calling on people to join the conversation on Twitter by using #StopMagufuli to urge President Magufuli to withdraw his damaging statements and take all necessary measures to ensure that girls do not miss out on their schooling.
About Equality Now:
Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. Our international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sex trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as child marriage and FGM.
Equality Now is dedicated to creating a more just world where women and girls have equal rights under the law and full enjoyment of those rights. For details of our current campaigns, please visit www.equalitynow.org.
Christa Stewart a lawyer experienced in working with adolescent girls and on issues of human trafficking, sexual assault and immigration. Prior to joining Equality Now, Christa worked for the New York State Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance (OTDA). Before OTDA, she served as Director of Legal Services at The Door, a youth development agency, and also worked at Safe Horizon in a number of capacities managing sexual assault, child advocacy and human trafficking programs.
Christa has lectured at numerous universities and educational institutions on immigration, women and human rights issues. Her articles have appeared in the Women’s Law Journal and the International Legal Practitioner, and she contributed chapters to the Lawyer's Manual on Human Trafficking and the International Adoptions Source Book. Christa has served on the Board of Trustees of WomenRising, a domestic violence organization, and the Board of Queens Legal Services. She is currently on the Board of the Global Workers Justice Alliance.