NAITORE: Magufuli, ban sexual violence, not teenage mothers from school!

NAITORE: Magufuli, ban sexual violence, not teenage mothers from school!

Equality Now has noted with great concern the unfortunate utterance by Tanzanian President John Joseph Pombe Magufuli, barring teenage mothers from attending formal schools.

President Magufuli was quoted by the BBC as saying at a public rally: “After calculating some few mathematics she’d be asking the teacher in the classroom ‘let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby’… After getting pregnant, you are done!”

“These NGOs should go out and open schools for parents. But they should not force the government [to take back the pupils].

“I’m giving out free education for students who have really decided to go and study, and now you want me to educate the parents?”

The right to education is a primary human right as stipulated by the United Nations on the basis of discrimination.

In Tanzania, where the illiteracy rate went up by one per cent to reach 23 per cent in 2016 and around one in four females are still illiterate, the Tanzanian governments should put in place all the measures necessary to ensure that girls do not miss out on school. Equally important is that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable for their actions.

Denying girls who have become mothers – many of whom are survivors of sexual violence – access to education is a violation of their human rights. The ban also exposes them to other human rights violations like child marriage.

The landmark ruling by Tanzania’s high court in 2016, which made section 13 and 17 of the marriage Act unconstitutional, and raised the eligible age for girls and boys to 18, should inform the government’s decisions and such road side declarations as made by the President.

TheEducation Amendment Act  2016, (CAP. 353) clearly states that any person who impregnates a primary school or a secondary school girl commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term of thirty years.

No text in the law implies or even suggest the banishing of such girls who have been sexually abused from attending school. Tanzania’s Education Act, 1978, is very clear on the right to education, indicating in black and white that: “No person may, within the United Republic, be denied opportunity to obtain any category, nature or level of national education…”

How President Magufuli can issue a decree to have teenage mothers barred from accessing education when this is directly at odds with the commitments that Tanzania has already made by signing up to various regional and international pieces of legislation? These include the Maputo Protocol, which guarantees the rights of women and girls in Africa including their rights to education and training,and the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which clearly states that girls who get pregnant should be given an opportunity to access education.

Furthermore, Tanzania will not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 if the right to education for girls is not fully realized and promoted. All girls deserve the right to learn and they should be protected from all forms of abuse.

President Magufuli’s unfortunate remarks come just days after Africa has celebrated the Day of the African Child. The theme: Accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities for Children in Africa by 2030, is very clear on why girls should not be discriminated against, regardless of whether they are mothers.

Equality Now is calling on people to join the conversation on Twitter by using #StopMagufuli to urge President Magufuli to withdraw his damaging statements, lift the ban on teenage mothers accessing schools, and take all necessary steps to ensure the well-being and future prospects of all girls across Tanzania.

About this Writer: Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge is the Justice for Girls/ End Sexual violence program officer at Equality Now. She is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and a human rights lawyer who is passionate about advocating for the rights of women and girls. Naitore believes in shaping a world, where women thrive and enjoy all their rights. For her, laws are indicative to the government’s accountability of protecting girls’ rights.