Rights groups want to end Tanzania's school ban on young mothers

Tanzanian President John Magufuli banned teenage mothers from returning to public schools in a decree.

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    In Tanzania, teenage pregnancy can cost young mothers the opportunity to get an education.

    President John Magufuli's decree banning teenage mothers from returning to public schools is strictly enforced, and teachers who refuse to comply are disciplined.

    In the northern town of Shinyanga, where more girls get pregnant than anywhere else in the country, blocking girls from returning to schools after their babies are born is putting more pressure on non-governmental organisations, like the Agape Knowledge Open School.

    The non-profit centre in Shinyanga rescues girls from early marriages and provides shelter to pregnant teenagers.

    Sofia, 16, told Al Jazeera she was raped by her brother-in-law. She has a one-year-old baby. Her brother-in-law, a teacher, has gone into hiding after she took the matter to the police.

    "After the incident, I told my sister - his wife - but she would not believe me. She started mistreating me, beating me saying I must have been promiscuous," Sofia said.

    Some of the girls say that they were taken in by men, often older than them, who showered them with money.

    Jacqueline, 17, is six months pregnant and says she was drawn to the generosity of her unborn baby's father - a 22-year-old casual labourer.

    "He gave me money and gifts. I would buy my personal things like underwear with the money," she said.

    "My parents... they don't have much money and they are burdened with taking care of my five siblings and I," she added.

    The government estimates that there were nearly 70,000 teen pregnancies last year. Shinyanga has the highest rate in the country.

    Lack of alternative

    President John Magufuli's decree to keep the girls out of school highlights the scale, not only of teen pregnancies but also child marriages. They account for more than 35 percent of all weddings in the country. 

    Pregnant girls and young mothers are allowed to go to vocational centres or private schools. But there are few non-profit ones such as Agape. Others are too expensive for many.

    "Education stakeholders and ministry officials had made good progress in working out a framework to amend the law and allow such girls back to schools. The presidential decree means those plans are now on hold," John Josephat Myola, programme director for the Agape Aids Control Programme in Shinyanga told Al Jazeera.

    Some human rights campaigners say women's rights in Tanzanian laws are vague, conflicting and discriminatory.

    "One part of the law recognises that anyone below 18 years old is a child and needs to be protected," Felista Mauya, acting chief executive officer of Legal and Human Rights Centre, told Al Jazeera.

    "Then there is a marriage act that says that a 15-year-old can get married with the consent of parents.

    "We have signed several children and women rights charters but not domesticated. All these issues need to be looked into." 

    For many of the girls, they say all they want is a second chance and to go to school.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera