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Education for Pregnant Girls in Tanzania

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the right to education to everyone. [1]  In Tanzania, the Constitution guarantees a right to education to the highest level a person is capable of achieving. [2]  However, in a blatant act of discrimination, the Tanzania government does not allow pregnant girls to attend school. [3]  President John Magufuli, elected in 2015, stated “as long as I’m president, no pregnant students will be allowed to return to school.” [4]

It is estimated that 8,000 pregnant girls are expelled from Tanzanian schools every year. [5] In a country where 27% of girls ages 15-19 are mothers or pregnant, this is detrimental to the education of the population. [6]

Many schools in Tanzania go as far as requiring pregnancy tests for schoolgirls. [7] This leads some girls to drop out early to avoid the humiliation of the tests and others seek unsafe abortions, putting their lives at risk. [8]  At Arusha Secondary School, girls are subjected to compulsory pregnancy tests on a regular basis and are immediately expelled if their test is positive. [9] The government’s reasoning for this policy is that pregnant girls set a bad example for their peers and encourage other girls to have sex. [10]

While the girls are expelled, the boys responsible for the pregnancy are not, even if they attend the same school. [11]  In some cases, men and boys responsible for the pregnancy are arrested and jailed. [12] However, pregnant girls who do not disclose the identity of  their sexual partners to their teachers or authorities may also face severe punishment, including prison time. [13]

Expelling girls from school can have extreme implications.  It exposes them to child marriage, abuse, and hardship in supporting themselves and their child. [14]  In a country where 17% of women have experienced sexual violence, some of these expelled girl’s pregnancies are the result of rape, and not the girls’ “immoral” conduct that the law is in place to combat. [15] In these cases, the policy punishes victims instead of providing them with a supportive and safe space in school.

Before leaving his post this year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein spoke out against Tanzania’s policy: “The Government's policy of permanently refusing any further education to girls who become pregnant is shocking, and I am disturbed by the High Court’s finding that such a policy is not discriminatory.” [16]  The global community should put pressure on Tanzania to change this policy, which clearly disregards the importance of girls’ education and further exposes them to hardship.

Tanzania ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1985. [17] Article 10 of the Convention specifically ensures “(f) The reduction of female student drop-out rates and the organization of programmes for girls and women who have left school prematurely.” [18] The last time Tanzania was up for the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (hereinafter “UPR”) was in 2016. Tanzania ignored the issue in its own national report during the UPR process, and so did every single Member State that had the chance to provide recommendations to the Tanzanian government. [19] Forcing girls to leave school due to pregnancy and intimidating them with pregnancy tests is not supportive of the Convention that the country is obligated to uphold.  The UN Human Rights Council must address this problem before the next UPR in 2021. [20]

Alexandra spent the summer of 2018 in Tanzania presenting applicable Tanzanian and international law to women and girls in rural communities.

This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.


[1] G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, Art. 26, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec. 10, 1948)

[2] The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, ¶ 11 (1997, rev. 2005).

[3] Africa: Pregnant Girls, Young Mothers Barred From School, Human Rights Watch (Jun. 14, 2018, 3:00 AM), https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/14/africa-pregnant-girls-young-mothers-barred-school.

[4] Id.

[5] Ivana Kottasova, They Failed Mandatory Pregnancy Tests at School, CNN (Oct. 11, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/11/health/tanzania-pregnancy-test-asequals-intl/index.html.

[6] Id.

[7] Africa, supra note 4.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Agnes Odhiambo, Tanzania Must Lift Cruel Ban on Teen Mothers Returning to School, Human Rights Watch (Jul. 3, 2017, 6:16 AM), https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/03/tanzania-must-lift-cruel-ban-teen-mothers-returning-school.

[11] Leave No Girl Behind in Africa, Human Rights Watch (Jun. 14, 2018), https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/06/14/leave-no-girl-behind-africa/discrimination-education-against-pregnant-girls-and.

[12] Kottasova, supra note 5.

[13] Id.

[14] Leave, supra note 10.

[15] Kottasova, supra note 5.

[16] Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, High Commissioner’s global update of human rights concerns, 37th session of the Human Rights Council (Mar. 7, 2018).

[17] Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination against Women, Sept. 3, 1981, 1249 U.N.T.S. 13.

[18] Id.

[19] Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, United Republic of Tanzania, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/WG.6/25/TZA/1 (Feb. 10, 2016).

[20] See United Nations Human Rights Council, Cycles of the Universal Periodic Review, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/UPR/UPR_3rd_cycle.pdf