THE National Assembly has been told that the government is working on a draft legislation which, if approved, will allow pregnant schoolgirls to remain in classrooms.
At the moment, pregnant schoolgirls are expelled and that becomes the end of their academic pursuits. Of course, their offending partners, the men criminally responsible for putting the schoolgirls in the family way, are arrested, prosecuted and if proven guilty they are thrown into jails for a period not exceeding 30 years.
Indeed, the punishment for such culprits is terribly stiff. In Zanzibar, however, pregnant schoolgirls are taken lightly and quite humanely. They are accepted back in the classroom after childbirth. The Mainland’s legislation draft on this matter is ready, the august House has been told, and is awaiting approval by stakeholders.
The stakeholders in this respect include parents, teachers, religious leaders, Members of Parliament and of course, the government. The draft is well intentioned but there are questions that the stakeholders must take into consideration.
If the pregnant girl is allowed back into the classroom, does this mean the miscreant who impregnated her will not be prosecuted and punished? Does the leniency shown to the girl not open Pandora’s box in the sense that too many girls will now fall pregnant?
Will men who have no qualms at all about putting students in the family way enjoy a field day -- with impunity? And, of course, there is the reality that some girls will fall pregnant repeatedly without fearing retribution from anyone.
And there is also the problem of underage marriages and child pregnancies. This remains a headache for the nation. Some parents in this country marry off their daughters to husbands at a tender age -- below 18 years.
The statutory age for marriage is 18, the age of majority for both boys and girls. The practice, which is illegal and even ungodly, is an old tradition that can be traced back to numerous generations. It remains persistent today. Unfortunately, it is one of causes of the now numerous pregnancy complications in young mothers, who include school dropouts.
Indeed, Tanzania has one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the world. About 8,000 girls in Tanzania have their educational pursuits cut short every year as a result of pregnancy or untimely marriages.
The practice also affects girls’ health, education, future employment and prevents victims from reaching full potential in life. Of particular concern to the State is the large number of pregnancy complications among young girls who are not yet ready to bear children. Moreover, most under-age marriages fail to work. Indeed, schoolgirls need books -- not husbands.