The Tanzanian government agreed in November to ensure all pregnant girls and mothers receive an education, but the reality is that many still don’t have accessible options.
Human rights groups aren’t backing down on trying to end the country’s strict laws, which ban pregnant students from regular school and require young mothers to resort to vocational or unaffordable private institutions, Al Jazeera reports. Organizations offering other alternatives for young women to continue their educations are struggling to service all the students in need.
A discriminatory law first introduced in the 1960s and reinforced by President John Magufuli in 2017 stops pregnant girls in Tanzania from attending regular school and punishes teachers who don’t honor the ban. Schoolgirls are often subjected to mandatory pregnancy tests and run the risk of being arrested if pregnant.
This policy affects a significant portion of Tanzania's population. The country’s government estimates there were 70,000 teen pregnancies in the country in 2017, according to Al Jazeera. It also has one of the highest rates of child marriage prevalence in the world, according to the organization Girls Not Brides, putting almost 2 out of 5 girls in the country at risk of entering a child marriage and stopping their education.
Nonprofits like Agape Knowledge Open School in Shinyanga, a town in northern Tanzania with the country’s highest pregnancy rate, are stepping in to help young mothers and those forced into child marriage.
Agape students shared their stories with Al Jazeera.
One 16-year-old girl mother named Sofia was raped by her brother-in-law, who’s been in hiding ever since she tried to report him to the police.
"After the incident, I told my sister — his wife — but she would not believe me. She started mistreating me, beating me, saying I must have been promiscuous," Sofia said.
Other young women described being courted and bribed with gifts and money by older men.
Felista Mauya, acting CEO of the Dar es Salaam-based NGO Legal and Human Rights Centre, pointed out to Al Jazeera that legislation around child marriage in Tanzania isn’t tight enough, leaving too many loopholes. For instance, anyone under the age of 18 isn’t allowed to marry, but 15-year-olds can marry with parental consent.
"We have signed several children and women rights charters but not domesticated,” Mauya said. All these issues need to be looked into.”