Renewed hope for teen mothers as Tanzania to change law to allow school re-entry

Pregnant schoolgirls. Annually, more than 15,000 girls in Tanzania drop out of the formal education system because of pregnancy, according to data from Human Rights Watch.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Annually, more than 15,000 girls in Tanzania drop out of the formal education system because of pregnancy, according to data from Human Rights Watch.
  • The government under John Magufuli took away the girls' right to education.

Huge boost for Tanzania teen mothers’ education in post Magufuli era

Tanzania is making progress in enabling pregnant adolescents and teen mothers to access education, righting the wrongs committed during late President John Magufuli’s reign.

On June 22, 2017, at a public rally in Chalinze, in the Pwani region of Tanzania, Magufuli made his stand on access to education for girls impregnated while at school and their fate upon delivery.

“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,” he declared.

“After calculating some 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.”

This in effect became an order followed by public primary and secondary schools, throwing the pregnant adolescents and their parents into a dark hole of despair.

This move did not just take away the girls' right to education, despite the country offering “free, universal and compulsory” basic education introduced in public primary schools in 2002, and 2014, for public secondary schools.

It also exposed them to child marriage, which is an avenue for further violence against children, especially intimate partner violence, child labour, mistreatment and exploitation by in-laws.

On May 16, 2023, when Minister of Education Adolf Mkenda presented in Parliament his ministry’s TSh1.67 trillion ($636.6 million) Budget for the 2023/24 financial year, he outlined reviewing Education and Training Policy (2014) as well as Education Curriculum as one of the five priorities of the budget.

According Rebeca Gyumi, founder and executive director of Msichana (Swahili word for girl) Initiative, a Tanzanian non-governmental organisation empowering girls through education, the review came to the rescue of adolescents impregnated or who have become mothers.

“The government reviewed the Education and Training Policy, 2014, last year and included the re-entry of pregnant girls in the policy,” she told Nation.Africa.


“They will also be reviewing the Education Act, 1978, this year. They have promised to also include in the principal legislation the re-entry for teen mothers.

“Tanzania since 2021 adopted a policy to allow pregnant students to continue with education, there are issues with implementation, but the legal framework is currently there.”

On September 15, 2022, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child found Tanzania culpable of violating multiple human rights of adolescent girls when it expelled them from school for being pregnant.

The September 15 decision follows a case filed by the Centre for Reproductive Rights and Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania in June 2019 on behalf of six pregnant adolescent girls banned from learning.

The committee found the Tanzanian government infringed their rights when it subjected them to mandatory pregnancy testing and expelled them from school.

It further found the government to be taking away the girls' rights when it illegally detains the pregnant adolescents, totally bans them from accessing education post-childbirth, and fails to enable them to access sexual reproductive health services and information.

The committee recommended that the government immediately prohibit mandatory pregnancy testing in schools, health facilities and publicly announce the prohibition. And further undertake concrete steps to prevent expulsion of pregnant or married girls from schools by providing applicable laws and policies.

It also recommended readmission of schoolgirls who have been expelled due to pregnancy and wedlock.

Annually, more than 15,000 girls in Tanzania drop out of the formal education system because of pregnancy, according to data from Human Rights Watch.

It is, however, unclear the extent to which these recommendations have been implemented as Prof Mkenda had not responded to my queries as of June 17, 2024.

Nevertheless, an official from an international human rights organization, who preferred to be unidentified, said the current government has shown “goodwill and has reached out to us to support it in implementing the recommendations of the committee.”