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Sunday, September 19, 2021
DAR-ES-SALAAM, Mar 10 2010 (IPS) - Pregnancy is the leading cause of dropouts for school girls in Tanzania. And a national law forbidding young mothers to return to school after giving birth did not make it any easier for them to continue their education.
But thanks to pressure from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the Tanzania government has now adopted a new law that allows young mothers to continue their education at their former schools.
Before the revision of the law, some girls studied at vocational centres which made it easier to return to school.
Centres exist throughout the country and depend on the ministry of education. The training is funded thanks to family support: the girls learn a trade (such as hairdressing or dressmaking) or take refresher courses in the evening.
Bethsheba, 18, takes classes at Temeke Centre, but lives with her aunt. Mother of little Thabit, she fell pregnant with the child of her friend and neighbour in 2006.
“He told me loved me. Since I was waiting for the results of last year exam I thought it was a good time to have a relationship,” she told IPS. Currently, Bethsheba is taking refresher courses at the centre, and hopes to be able to return to secondary school soon.
Early pregnancy is not a new problem in Tanzania and has often sparked national debate.
On Feb. 10 during a National Assembly session, an official from the opposition ‘Civic United Front’, challenged the deputy minister of education, 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 is preparing new laws and policies to address the issue, adding that six percent of girls leave school each year due to pregnancy. Twenty-five percent of Tanzanian women under 18 are already mothers.
According to ministry of education statistics, 28,600 girls left school between 2004 and 2008 because they were pregnant. At secondary level the figures are alarming: in 2007 one in five girls fell pregnant and did not finish school.
One of the main reasons for the large number of pregnant girls is that many have unprotected sex and lack access to contraceptives. Moreover, there is the social context. For example, in the Shinyanga region (western Tanzania), parents threaten to throw their daughters out of their homes if they attend high school.
Many ask their daughters to fail their studies so they can marry as soon as possible. In some remote areas of the country, children as young as 11 are pregnant. Some blame the Marriage Act of 1971, which legalised marriage between a man and a 14-year-old-girl. For some parents the dowry they receive when marrying their daughter is a significant source of income.
Moreover, in this population that is 80 percent rural, low-income parents often do not have the means to send their children to secondary school. When they finish primary school at 13 or 14, girls stay home in the village and fall pregnant.
“A number of parents don’t take their children’s education seriously,” says a reproachful ministry of education.
Nevertheless, the issue is taken very seriously by officials as the majority of these teenagers face challenges for which they are unprepared. The Beninese singer and UNICEF ambassador, Angélique Kidjo, visited Tanzania in January to raise awareness on this issue.
“It makes me sad to see these young girls because being mother at 16 is not easy,” she said in Dar es Salaam during a meeting with young mothers.
Thanks to pressure from UNICEF the Tanzanian government adopted the new law in January 2010 which allows young mothers back into their old schools. This was strictly forbidden before now. But UNICEF recognises that all is not won, some schools still do not accept girls returning after childbirth as they are unaware of the new law.
In addition to the risk of contracting HIV during sex, these girls also face the risk of complications during birth. In Tanzania, three-quarters of births take place at home without proper care and treatment.
Angelina, 16, was pregnant when she dropped out of her grade school in Dar es Salaam. Her baby was born premature with heart problems. She spent four months in hospital, but she is studying at a centre similar to Temeke. Her story has a rare positive outcome in a country were young mothers just like her are less fortunate.
As for the child’s father, a bus driver, he disappeared without a trace. Abandonment is a frequent occurrence for these girls. Many are too young to be mothers and are left stranded by their baby’s fathers with no means of supporting themselves.
Sometimes parents help their daughters when they can, but some do not hesitate to kick them out of their homes. As a consequence: many young girls with very small children sell fruit and vegetables by the roadside, forced to fend for themselves.
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