Re: Committee’s consideration of Government of the United Republic of Tanzania’s report on May 8, 2017

Dear Professor Mezmur,

Please accept our regards on behalf of Human Rights Watch.

We write in advance of the African Committee of Experts’ review of the government of the United Republic of Tanzania’s compliance with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

We would like to share Human Rights Watch’s key findings on the barriers to the right to secondary education in Tanzania, pursuant to articles 11, 13 and 16, as well as on the widespread incidence of child labor and child marriage, pursuant to articles 15 and 21.

Human Rights Watch has conducted research and advocacy on a range of child rights issues in Tanzania since 2012. We have documented the widespread incidence of child labor, particularly children who work in artisanal gold mines; child marriage; as well as key barriers to education. Please find our key findings below, and links to our reports and additional information, including our recommendations to the government, in the Annex.

We look forward to engaging with the Committee during Tanzania’s review, and thank you for taking our evidence into account.


Zama Neff                              Daniel Bekele

Executive Director                 Senior Director for Africa Advocacy

Children’s rights division          


  • The government controls the number of students who enter secondary education by relying on the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE), an exam at the end of primary school. The government only allows students who pass the exam to proceed onto secondary school and it cannot be retaken, meaning children who fail cannot continue with formal schooling and often drop out without completing the last year of primary education. Since 2012, more than 1.6 million children have been barred from secondary education due to their exam results. Research conducted by Human Rights Watch in 2013 and 2014 found that many children who did not pass the PSLE were at high risk of working in exploitative conditions in gold mines, as domestic workers and many were married off at a very young age. 
  • Students who live in remote or rural areas have limited access to secondary schools, and often must travel very long distances to get to the nearest school. The expenses associated with the distance to school (including hostel and transport fees) constrain many poor children from accessing secondary education.
  • The long distance to schools, and the lack of safe and adequate hostels also limit access for many female students, who often are exposed to sexual harassment and abuse on their way to school. Moreover, many schools lack adequate sanitation facilities, which poses a problem for girls, who often struggle to manage their monthly periods due to the lack of privacy, running water and separate toilets. Girls often miss school during their monthly periods.
  • Secondary education remains inaccessible to many students with disabilities. Children with disabilities face many barriers and discrimination in primary education, and very few adolescents with disabilities attend secondary schools across the country. Most secondary schools in Tanzania are not accessible to adolescents with physical or other disabilities, and are inadequately resourced to accommodate students with all types of disabilities. Many lack adequate learning materials, inclusive equipment, and qualified teachers.
  • The government’s regulations on the expulsion of married or pregnant girls and corporal punishment facilitate discrimination and abuse, and stand in sharp contrast to the spirit of the government’s efforts to provide universal education. In particular:
  • The Education (Expulsion and Exclusion of Pupils from Schools) Regulations call for the expulsion of married or pregnant girls from school, impacting on a large number of adolescent girls. In 2016, 27 percent of girls ages 15 – 19 had either had birth or were pregnant, according to the government’s demographic and health survey. Many schools conduct compulsory pregnancy testing, an ineffective and punitive measure that humiliates girls, to expel girls who are found to be pregnant. Our research shows that once out of school, many girls are not able to continue with formal schooling or training to get employable skills.
  • The Education (Corporal Punishment) Regulations sanction the use of corporal punishment in schools, and are not in line with the government’s international and regional obligations to ban all forms of violence against children. Human Rights Watch found that corporal punishment is endemic in public secondary schools, and students are very often exposed to brutal and humiliating forms of violence.
  • Sexual abuse and harassment against girls are widespread in Tanzanian schools by teachers and on the way to school by bus drivers and adults. Impunity for these crimes prevails. Most students told Human Rights Watch they do not report these abuses because they do not know how to do so, do not trust that their concerns will be addressed, or they fear retaliation from teachers. The government lacks a clear policy and procedures for reporting, investigating, and punishing incidents of sexual abuse, exploitation or rape in schools.
  • Out-of-school adolescents have limited options to complete lower-secondary education. The government provides very few realistic alternatives for several million students who do not pass the PSLE or drop out halfway through lower-secondary education, without completing basic education. A return to secondary education is possible if students enroll in private centers to study, but many students lack the financial means and information to pursue this option. Formal vocational training requires the successful completion of lower-secondary education and is costly. Other vocational training courses are limited in quality, scope, and use.
  • Adolescents often lack access to the information and resources they need to learn about, and fully understand, sexuality and reproduction. Secondary school students have very limited access to comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health education (SRHE). SRHE is not a standalone subject in the 2010 secondary school curriculum. Teachers may choose to cover some aspects in science subjects, for example HIV/AIDS transmission or basic aspects of reproduction, but some students indicated they are only taught when they reach Form III, when a significant number of students have already dropped out due to pregnancies.

Child Labor

  • Mining operations in Tanzania typically involve people who control the mine, pit holders (who lease pits from the people who control the mine), and workers, including children.
  • Children are involved in every phase of the mining process. They dig and drill in deep, unstable pits during shifts of up to 24 hours. They transport heavy bags of gold ore and crush the ore into powder. After concentrating the gold further, children mix the powder with mercury and water in a pan. The mercury attracts the gold particles, creating a gold-mercury amalgam. Children burn the amalgam to evaporate the mercury and recover the gold. Children who work in mining are exposed to serious health risks, including: accidents in deep pits, injuries from dangerous tools, respiratory diseases, and musculoskeletal problems.
  • Mercury poses a threat to children and adults who work in mining, as well as to surrounding communities. Miners, including children, risk mercury poisoning from touching the mercury and breathing the mercury vapor. People who live in mining areas may also be exposed to mercury when community or family members process the gold at home, or from eating mercury-contaminated fish from nearby rivers. Mercury attacks the central nervous system and can cause developmental and neurological problems. It is particularly dangerous to fetuses and infants, because their young bodies are still developing. Most adult and child miners are unaware of the grave health risks connected to the use of mercury.
  • Girls on and around mining sites in Chunya and Kahama districts face sexual harassment, including pressure to engage in sex work. As a result, some girls become victims of commercial sexual exploitation and risk contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • The government has taken some important steps to reduce child labor and mercury exposure in gold mining, including by signing the Minamata Convention on Mercury in October 2013. However, it has failed to adequately enforce its child labor laws and address some of the socioeconomic problems contributing to child labor. The government has also failed to adequately address some of the underlying socioeconomic causes of child labor. In particular, the government provides too little support to orphans and other vulnerable children, many of whom seek employment in mining to cover their basic needs. As noted in the education section, many children across Tanzania do not transition from primary to secondary or vocational school and start full-time work in sectors such as mining. This is partly because of the cost of attending secondary school and limited vocational training opportunities.

Child Marriage

  • Tanzania has high child marriage prevalence rates, with almost one girl out of three marrying before 18 years, according to a 2016 joint government and NGO survey on child marriage prevalence in the country. Over 36 percent of young women between 20 and 24 years old were married before the age of 18. In Shinyanga and Tabora, two of the regions with the highest prevalence of child marriage and teenage pregnancies, nearly 60 percent of 20 to 24 year-old women are married by the age of 18. In these regions, 23 percent of adolescents ages 15-19 are pregnant or already have children.
  • Tanzania’s laws tolerate early marriage. The 1971 Law of Marriage Act allows girls to marry at age 15 with parental consent, or at age 14 with a court’s consent. As early as 1994, Tanzania’s Legal Reform Commission recommended amending the Act to raise the minimum age of marriage to 21 years for both boys and girls.
  • Tanzania lacks a comprehensive law on domestic violence and marital rape is not criminalized. The government has made scant efforts to investigate or prosecute perpetrators of child marriage. Several significant factors underpin this impunity. Many girls and women do not know what their rights are, or do not know where to seek assistance, other than from their families or traditional institutions. Some victims will not report forced marriage and marital abuse because they lack confidence in the justice system and fear reprisal and stigma should they report their families or husbands. The absence of clear family legislation means that most matters relating to marriage, divorce, maintenance payments, and domestic violence are handled through customary procedures, which are discriminatory and often fail to provide justice for victims.
  • The Tanzanian government has not made sufficient efforts to protect girls at risk of child and forced marriage and to assist survivors with much needed psychological, social, or economic support. Survivors often struggle alone with the severe mental health consequences of the abuses they endured. Additionally, they get little support to make up for their lost education or to help them develop economic opportunities to provide for themselves and their children. While some local groups and international aid agencies operate programs, their efforts cannot compensate for the state authorities’ failure to adopt national strategies to address survivors’ various needs.
  • In a landmark decision in July 2016, the Tanzanian High Court ruled unconstitutional sections 13 and 17 of the Tanzania Law of Marriage Act, and directed the Attorney General to amend the law and raise the eligible age for marriage for boys and girls to 18 years. In August 2016, however, Tanzania’s Attorney General George Masaju unexpectedly appealed against the High Court ruling.