Tanzania’s first woman president, Samia Suluhu, took office in March 2021. Her administration has the opportunity to call on education authorities to end the exclusion of pregnant and married girls from public schools. She should urge them to adopt a clear human rights-compliant continuation policy that would allow pregnant and married girls to continue with formal education by remaining in school so they can succeed in their studies.
Last week, President Suluhu urged parents and communities to protect the rights of children. She asked that they “reflect on the extent to which we are … protecting them from abuse and violence and fulfilling our responsibility to provide them with a better and happier upbringing.”
Suluhu was speaking on the African Union’s Day of the African Child, celebrated on June 16 each year. This year’s theme focused on accelerating implementation of its Agenda 2040, which outlines the AU’s commitments to secure progress for children and young people. One of the ten aspirations of Agenda 2040 is “An effective child-friendly national legislative, policy and institutional framework.” Ensuring the right to inclusive education is key to carrying out this agenda.
Yet, the Tanzanian government discriminates against pregnant and parenting students, explicitly barring them from attending public schools. The previous president, the late John Magufuli, cemented this as official government policy, affecting thousands of girls each year.
There has been past confusion around the government’s stance on the issue. This week, a senior education ministry official announced that the government would now offer an alternative path to education, through Folk Development Colleges, to girls who dropped out because of pregnancy.
To be clear, the government has not reversed the ban preventing pregnant girls, adolescent mothers, and married students to study in government schools. Girls cannot go back to regular primary or lower secondary schools.
Expelling pregnant and married girls from school can ruin their lives. Girls who are expelled from school have few chances of continuing formal education, limiting their opportunities and their ability to make informed decisions about their lives. They are also exposed to gender-based violence such as child marriage – a big problem in Tanzania – which seriously threatens their future. Although Tanzania’s highest court ordered the government to set the minimum marriage age for both boys and girls at 18, it has failed to do so. The government should promptly adopt a law ending child marriage.
By discriminating against girls and young mothers in education, the government becomes responsible for the serious harms they suffer, violating rights recognized under African and international law. It also undermines Tanzania’s development.
President Suluhu should prioritize human rights in her administration and ensure a Tanzania that is inclusive of all children.