Rights group fault Tanzania for violating adolescent girls’ rights

Tanzania President the late John Pombe Magufuli. In 2017, he declared that no pregnant student in the country would be allowed to return to school.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • ACERWC found Tanzania government takes away girls' rights when it illegally detains the pregnant adolescents, totally bans them from accessing education post-childbirth.
  • The human-rights organisation further argued that the directive violated girls’ rights to privacy as provided by the African Children’s Charter.
  • This follows a case brought by the Legal and Human Rights Centre for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Tanzanian girls on September 15.

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child has (ACERWC) has found Tanzania violated multiple human rights of adolescent girls when it expelled them from school for being pregnant.

ACERWC issued its decision on a case brought by the Legal and Human Rights Centre for Reproductive Rights (LHRC) on behalf of Tanzanian girls on September 15.

The lawsuit, which was filed against the Tanzanian government in 2019, challenged the country’s policy of expelling pregnant and married girls from school and mandatory pregnancy testing.

The committee 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 access sexual reproductive health services and information.

The human-rights organisation further argued that the directive violated girls’ rights to privacy as provided by the African Children’s Charter.

Immoral behaviour

The controversial ban, which is rooted to a 1961 education policy, was given new life by former Tanzanian President the late John Magufuli.

“No pregnant student will be allowed to return to school,’’ he publicly declared in 2017.

Mr Magufuli also stated that allowing pregnant girls to attend school would cause “immoral behaviour to permeate primary and secondary schools’’.

The court took note of recent developments by President Samia Suluhu’s government, which issued a circular in November 2021, which allowed girls who had dropped out of school due to pregnancy, to be re-admitted within two years from the time of dropping out.

The committee, however, noted that the circular did not prohibit mandatory pregnancy testing in schools.

CERWC, therefore, held that mandatory pregnancy testing of school girls violates their right to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment and freedom from torture and abuse which cannot be justified by any ground.

It recommended the government to immediately prohibit mandatory pregnancy testing in schools, health facilities and publicly announce the prohibition.

Further, the committee advised Tanzania to review its education regulations in order to remove pregnancy as a ground for expulsion.

It also recommended re-admission of school girls who have been expelled due to pregnancy and wedlock.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 15,000 girls in Tanzania drop out of formal education system due to pregnancy.

Pregnancy

Data from Tanzania’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training show in 2012, a total of 2,433 girls dropped out of primary school while 4,705 dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy.

The centre associate director, legal strategies for Africa Martin Onyango, said the decision is a victory to millions of adolescent girls across the continent since 53 countries have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

"It’s time for Tanzania to review its education policies and remove pregnancy and wedlock as grounds for expelling girls from schools. School administrators should now be instructed to allow girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or wedlock to come back to school with no preconditions," he said in a statement.

LHRC director of advocacy and reforms, Fulgence Massawe said "The government must urgently conduct extensive sensitisation of teachers, healthcare providers, and police among other actors, to ensure protection of pregnant and married girls.”

Tanzania is expected to report back to the ACERWC on measures taken to implement the decision within 180 days from the date the decision was released.





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