“I LIKED to study so that I could have a broad mind. There was nothing I did not like to study. I had a dream of finishing school and going on to college, graduating and finding work.”
Like millions of adolescents in Tanzania, Furaha from Arusha wanted to study hard and to graduate, find a job and support herself and her family.
From the age of 14, she travelled more than an hour and a half every morning to reach her secondary school and though it was tiring, Furaha was motivated by her dream of becoming a geologist and work at Tanzanite mining in Mererani, Manyara Region.
Her dreams were shattered at the age of 16, when a secondary school teacher that her parents had hired to tutor her sexually abused her and I wonder why this man was not arraigned and later imprisoned 30 year as the law dictates.
Instead, this hooligan teacher disappeared after Furaha informed him she was pregnant. Furaha was expelled from school after a routine mandatory monthly pregnancy test, and as I write this column she is experiencing hard life at Usa River area in Meru district, where she lives with her parents.
Furaha presents thousands of underage girls in Tanzania today, who fell victim of unwanted pregnancies, and since they are cheated to sex by adults, they later bear the consequences that they were not prepared for.
Things are now going to be very difficult for school girls who get pregnant, because President John Magufuli has openly declared that they won’t be allowed to school once they get pregnant and after delivering, they should seek other alternatives, but not the formal primary or secondary school enrolment.
The president’s utterance has triggered some debates among activists and I think instead of making such discussions, we should now start thinking how to reduce the number school pregnancies, if not ending them altogether.
In 2013, I remember to have read the United Nations’ global education index report, which showed that Tanzania ranked 159th out of 187 countries. The report measured mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling.
In the same report it was reported that girls in Tanzania face obstacles, including sexual harassment, and expulsion from school of girls who become pregnant – and the question to ask ourselves at this point is this – Have we reacted to this report and proposed better means of reducing pregnancies in our schools, both in primary and secondary schools?
What have the activists, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other interested stakeholders done in making sure that better sexual education is provided to our communities to rescue girls from falling victims of early pregnancies?
Is it easy to defend rights of the victims, rather than proposing long lasting solution to the problem? Although there is near gender parity in form one enrolments in Tanzania, fewer than a third of girls who complete primary end up completing form four and this is more evident in ward secondary schools.
Have we done anything as a community (Both government and NGOs) to introduce special education on sexuality to these schools as a measure to reduce school pregnancies?
Our schools today routinely force girls to undergo pregnancy tests and expel those who are pregnant, often bringing a permanent and premature end to their education, and some pregnant girls drop out because they fear expulsion.
Should we just urge for their acceptance to school after delivering, or president Magufuli is right when he recommends them to train in vocation schools and later get the capacity to engage themselves in income generating activities?
What is now important at this stage is for the government and NGOs to sit together and propose effective ways of reducing school pregnancies that shall equip knowledge to our young boys and girls to their sexuality.
In fact, the situation in Katavi, Tabora and Shinyanga regions where school pregnancies are rampant calls for government’s attention, because there are a number of factors, which, if applied could tremendously reduce number of teenage pregnancies.
Pregnancy is the leading cause of dropouts for school girls in Tanzania. President Magufuli’s statement has brought back a national law that used to forbid young mothers from returning to school after giving birth.
Due to the pressure from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in 2010, the Tanzania government adopted a new law that allowed young mothers to continue their education at their former schools, but under President Magufuli’s rule, this shall not be applicable anymore.
Girls who have become pregnant now have the option of studying at vocational centres, which make it easier for them to get an economic activity to do. Vocation centres exist throughout the country and the affected girls can go there and learn a trade (such as hairdressing or dressmaking) or take refresher courses in the evening.
Early pregnancy is not a new problem in Tanzania and has often sparked national debate. I remember some years ago when an opposition MP from Zanzibar challenged the then Deputy Minister of Education, Mrs Mwantumu Mahiza, to explain the measures taken by the government to reduce the number of girls falling pregnant at school.
Mahiza said that his ministry was preparing new laws and policies to address the issue, adding that six percent of girls leave school each year due to pregnancy.
For example, in Shinyanga Region there were some cases reported in the past, where parents threatened to throw their daughters out of their homes if they decide to join form one.
Some were reported to have asked their daughters to fail their studies so they can marry as soon as possible. Teenage pregnancy increases when girls are denied the right to make decisions about their sexual health and well-being – what have we done about this as a community?
Causes to teenage pregnancy include lack of access to sexual and reproductive health education and services – Could we come with a curriculum to implement this?. Girls who have received a low amount of education are 5 times more likely to become a mother than those with higher levels of education.
Teenage pregnancy is a global problem with dangerous consequences, because key statistics show that 7.3 million girls in the world become pregnant before 18 each year and 2.5 million girls aged 15 or younger give birth each year.
Recent data shows that half of pregnancies among girls aged 15–19 living in developing countries are unintended, while every year, 3 million girls undergo unsafe abortions.
Girls must have the ability to make decisions about their own bodies and this is by their awareness of sexual health, protecting them from abuse and connecting them with education and health services.
In Uganda for example, 1 in 4 teenage girls were reported pregnant or have already given birth because they don’t have the information or services they need to choose when they become mothers.
Time has come for the government, NGOs, activists, and all other stakeholders to sit together and propose effective measures, that shall be applied to reduce the number of school pregnancies and this should be done in the spirit of openness for the betterment of the current and future generations of this lovely country.