On Nov 19th, Equality Now, a women’s rights group, filed a case in the Africa Court on Human and People’s Rights against the Tanzanian government on its discriminatory ban preventing pregnant girls and teenage mothers from attending school. The ban, established in 2002, allows schools to expel pregnant schoolgirls and has been protested by many human rights groups over the years, and by Equality Now since 2017. Equality Now, as other rights groups have been saying, says that the ban forces more girls into the cycle of poverty and prevents them from attaining a better quality of life. They also stated that the ban gives them a higher risk of being exposed to other human rights violations including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
A 2013 report from the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Global Legal Program’s found that the number of schoolgirls that “dropped out” of primary and secondary school was 9,800 in 2009, more than 8,000 in 2010 and 5,767 in 2011. Thousands of schoolgirls continue to have their right to education denied by the ban. Tanzania’s laws also prohibit abortion, but many illegal and unsafe abortions continue to occur contributing to high maternal mortality rate in the country. The law that came into place specifically allowed administrations to expel students based on “offenses against morality” and “wedlock”. The first is very loosely defined and schools use this against pregnant schoolgirls. This ban was reinforced by President John Magufuli who endorsed it in 2017 and still supports it. Some girls have been arrested under his presidency for “immoral” behaviours and to deter other students from getting pregnant. His methods are immoral and do not help or support these schoolgirls.
Equality Now was able to overturn a similar ban in Sierra Leone in March 2020 with its partners in ECOWAS Court of Justice, the highest court in West Africa. “We have advocated… to lift the ban on pregnant girls and adolescent mothers accessing school but without success. The African Court is our last resort and we are hopeful that the voices of these girls – many of whom are victims of sexual violence or coercion – will finally be heard,” stated Faiza Mohamed, Equality Now’s Africa director. In the past, the Tanzanian government has been more lenient on this ban in response to when the World Bank had held back giving them loans for its education programmes. Now, the ban could finally be removed, and would be one step in the right direction to improve the schoolgirls’ quality of life and to protect their human rights as well.