President John Magufuli of Tanzania created much controversy after recently announcing that pregnant students will not be allowed to return to school.
Magufuli made the announcement at a rally. He said, “As long as I am president … no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school … After getting pregnant, you are done.”
Not surprisingly, the ban is getting pushback from many human rights groups who argue that it is unconstitutional. Magufuli explained his reasoning by saying that pregnant girls would be a distraction in the classroom and would set a bad example for other students.
“We cannot allow this immoral behavior to permeate our primary and secondary schools,” he said.
Human rights groups and citizens are working together to fight the ban, which would threaten the education of many thousands of women and girls. According to a 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights, 55,000 girls have been expelled in the last decade due to a law which dates back to the 1960s that allows for pregnant women to be thus barred from receiving an education.
In addition to being considered completely backwards by most of the world, the ban breaks a promise that was made by the ruling party during the 2015 election, which told pregnant girls they would have the right to continue their education.
“We have to ensure girls are going to school,” he stated. “It’s a right. Even if it means we have to lodge a case in the courts to declare it unconstitutional, that’s a route that we’re considering.”
There are also concerns that the ban might increase the risk of abortion by forcing girls to choose between their education and their child.
A 1971 law still allows girls under 15 to be married in Tanzania.
Emily Nyoni was expelled from her school in Dar es Salaam after getting pregnant in 2012, reports Reuters. The expulsion ended her dreams of becoming a doctor. Unable to continue her education, Nyoni explains the way the ban would affect other girls like herself.
“Some people will hate you because you are pregnant or have given birth,” she said. “They will despise you as if you have committed an unforgivable sin.”
President Magufuli was also concerned with the men who impregnated the schoolgirls. He said the men should face 30 year prison sentences, and that they should “put the energy they used to impregnate the girl into farming while in jail.”
Despite this, girls will be the ones who continue to suffer. Many of them, already victims, will be forced to lose further control over their lives because of the choices of men.
President Magufuli also had words for the NGOs working to counteract the ban.
“These NGOs should go out and open schools for parents. But they should not force the government [to take back the pupils],” he said.
The fate of the ban and the education of these girls remains unclear.
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