Lemaplan International

Discrimination in Tanzania’s schools ruins girls’ lives

Tanzania’s first female president, Samia Suluhu, took office in March 2021. Her government has the power to ask education authorities to end the exclusion of pregnant and married girls from public schools. She should urge them to adopt a clear continuation policy, in line with human rights, that allows pregnant and married girls to continue formal education by staying in school so they can successfully complete their studies.

Last week, President Suluhu called on parents and communities to protect the rights of children. She asked that they “reflect on the extent to which we … protect them from abuse and violence and live up to our responsibility to help them grow up better and happier.”

Suluhu was speaking on the occasion of the African Union’s Day of the African Child, which is celebrated every year on 16 June. This year’s theme focused on accelerating the implementation of Agenda 2040, which outlines the AU’s commitments to ensure progress for children and youth. One of the ten goals of Agenda 2040 is “An effective child-friendly national legal, policy and institutional framework.” Ensuring the right to inclusive education is key to implementing this agenda.

Yet the Tanzanian government discriminates against pregnant and parenting students by explicitly barring them from attending public schools. The previous president, the late John Magufuli, cemented this as official government policy, affecting thousands of girls every year.

In the past, there has been confusion about the government’s stance on the issue. This week, a senior education ministry official announced that the government would now offer an alternative route to education, through Folk Development Colleges, for girls who drop out of school because of pregnancy.

To be clear, the government has not lifted the ban that prevents pregnant girls, teenage mothers and married students from studying in government schools. The girls cannot return to regular primary or secondary schools.

Expulsion of pregnant and married girls from school can ruin their lives. Girls who are expelled from school have little chance to continue formal education, limiting their opportunities and their ability to make informed decisions about their lives. They are also exposed to gender-based violence such as child marriage – a major problem in Tanzania – which seriously threatens their future. Although Tanzania’s highest court has ordered the government to set the minimum age of marriage for boys and girls at 18, it has not done so. The government should immediately pass a law ending child marriage.

By discriminating against girls and young mothers in education, the government is holding itself responsible for the severe harm they suffer, violating rights recognised under African and international law. It is also undermining Tanzania’s development.

President Suluhu should prioritise human rights in her government and ensure a Tanzania that is inclusive of all children.

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