Pregnant and Forbidden the Right to Education, A Growing Problem in Tanzania

By Ashley Solo

Pregnant and alone, young girls in Tanzania are unable to finish their public-school education upon becoming pregnant.[1] Whether this is truly the most effective way to curb teenage pregnancy remains. Would different policies such as including mandatory sexual education in all Tanzanian schools or holding young men accountable for their actions help?

Tanzanian schools expel about 8,000 pregnant girls a year.[2] While this practice started several decades ago, it has recently intensified since President John Magufuli took office in 2015.[3] President Magufuli cites a “vaguely worded law from the 60s” in support of this ban.[4] The country uses a “morality clause” from a 2002 education law to grant schools the legal framework needed to expel the students, which dates back to the 60s.[5] Not only are these pregnant girls expelled from school, but under President Magufuli, these girls are forbidden from ever returning.[6]

Some schools monitor their female students by conducting compulsory pregnancy tests.[7] At Arusha Secondary School in Tanzania, 800 girls take these pregnancy tests twice a year, “failure for them, it’s not an option.”[8] One student, Careen Temba, said “getting pregnant means the end of everything. In our school, when you get pregnant, you’re sent off. It feels like all your dreams are shattered down.”[9] President Magufuli claims that this directive is used to help limit teen pregnancy.[10] In addition to urinating in a jar, the teachers at the Moshono Secondary School in Arusha inspect the students by touching the girls’ stomachs.[11] One girl, upon admitting she was pregnant, was immediately expelled.[12]

At a public rally, President Magufuli stated, “she has chosen that kind of life. Let her go take care of the child.”[13] Under his administration, pregnant girls will not be allowed to return to school, which is directly adverse to previous government efforts to allow re-entry for teenage mothers.[14] President Magufuli’s speech effectively removed any discretion that schools had in choosing to enforce the morality rule.[15] Despite President Magufuli’s contentions otherwise, many women do not really choose this life at all; Tanzania has high rates of child marriage and sexual violence.[16] Thus, many girls are prevented from an education for reasons out of their control.[17] Especially problematic, 17% of women in Tanzania have experienced sexual violence.[18] Further, 27% of girls in Tanzania between the ages of 15-19 are mothers or pregnant.[19] Further, 37% of women aged 20-24 were married before they even turned 18.[20] According to the United Nations, Tanzania has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world and many girls exchange sex for food and shelter or for school fees.[21] These numbers indicate the vast number of girls affected by these stringent laws and the widespread problem of girls having sex, sometimes non-consensually.

The US-based Center for Reproductive Rights, reports that in Tanzania between 2003 and 2011, at least 8,000 girls a year have dropped out of school for becoming pregnant.[22] Not only are the expelled, but some girls even face hostility from their families. When one girl failed a pregnancy test, the school called her father, who said “let her die with the pregnancy.”[23] She now lives at a center for “vulnerable women” with her son and is studying to become a tailor, because her dreams of becoming a soldier were ripped away from here.[24] As a quarter of Tanzanian women will give birth before the age of twenty; thousands of women are prevented from completing their education every year.[25]

A majority of Tanzanians do not agree with the government’s crackdown. A 2016 study showed that over 60% of Tanzanians supported re-entry to schools for girls who had given birth, but yet most thought it was “better not to get pregnant at all,” which is why schools are becoming more strict.[26] Many female students believe that these mandatory tests are good and a way to protect them, viewing these tests as a “normal” part of their education.[27] Anna Ulimboka, the nurse, who oversees the testing at the Arusha Secondary School, also believes that these tests are good.[28] She explained that before these tests were given, girls would get pregnant over the holiday, but now that they are aware these tests will be conducted, girls “avoid relationships with boys.”[29] She said that pregnant girls are bad examples to other girls, as others will think if they too “mess up,” they shall be allowed to return to school.[30] Conversely, as Shilinde Ngalula, a Tanzanian Legal and Human Rights Centre lawyer said, this expulsion policy violates the country’s constitution, which includes a right to education.[31] Furthermore, he says girls are being punished without consideration of how she got pregnant, and thus, the possibility of rape is being ignored.[32]

The methods to inform young girls about the possibility of unwanted pregnancy is limited throughout the country. Most schools rely on mandatory pregnancy tests to scare girls, rather than to teach them how to prevent pregnancy in the first place.[33] Standalone sex education is not apart of the national curriculum; thus, many girls do not realize having sex can lead to becoming pregnant.[34] Further, in September 2018, President Magufuli told women to cease using contraceptives and called people using birth control “lazy.”[35] Additionally, the government has suspended family planning advertisements on both the radio and TV stations throughout the country.[36]

Perhaps surprisingly, girls are not the only ones to pay for these pregnancies, but the policies in place, likely do not go far enough. Men and boys who impregnate school girls can face prison sentences up to 30 years.[37] However, girls have also been arrested for failing to disclose the identity of the men who impregnated them.[38] Additionally, while girls are permanently limited from fulfilling their life-long dreams, men seem to get a second chance in regard to sex crimes.[39] In December 2017, Magufuli pardoned two men who were convicted of raping 10 primary school children between the ages of six and eight, after serving only 13 years of their sentences.[40] As these men were released, a Tanzanian government official “called for pregnant pupils to be taken into custody,” to testify in court as to who impregnated them.[41] This led critics to point out the hypocrisy of the President’s actions.[42] As the director of Community for Children’s Rights in Tanzania explained, often, rape cases are resolved within families, and it was surprising that these two men were even jailed in the first place.[43]

In January 2018, five schoolgirls between the ages of 16 and 19 were arrested for being pregnant, before being released on bail.[44] Many critics, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, called for the men to be arrested instead.[45] In December 2017, Sebastian Waryuba, Tandahimba’s district commissioner ordered the arrests of 55 girls who had given birth over the previous two years and their parents, as a way to deter others from getting pregnant and to “serve as a lesson to parents to stop their children engaging in ‘reckless’ sexual relationships.”[46] Another official said that the men who impregnated the students would be charged with rape, as the girls were minors and the law in the country is “clear that sex with someone below the age of 18 is rape.”[47] Despite moves to hold boys and men accountable for their actions, young girls are the ones suffering the most. 

Advocates argue that laws preventing pregnant girls and young mothers the right to study in public schools violate human rights treaties, which Tanzania has signed.[48] Some critics have the power to majorly affect Tanzania. For example, The World Bank withdrew a $300 million loan to Tanzania due to the policy expelling pregnant school girls.[49] Denmark, the country’s second-largest donor also withheld funding due to human rights abuses within the country.[50] With the world watching, Tanzania must decide whether the possibility of lowering the teen birth rate is worth pushing through with legislation that adversely affects women in its country, especially if its goals could be more effectively reached another way.

[1] Karen McVeigh, World Bank Pulls $300m Tanzania Loan Over Pregnant Schoolgirl Ban, The Guardian (Nov. 15, 2018),

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] School Pregnancy Tests are Mandatory Here, CNN (Oct. 10, 2018),

[5] Ivana Kottasová, They Failed Mandatory Pregnancy Tests at School. Then they were Expelled, CNN (Oct. 11, 2018),

[6] Id.

[7] McVeigh, World Bank supra note 1. CNN noted that at least six different schools in the country rely on these mandatory tests. Kottasová, supra note 5.

[8] School Pregnancy Tests are Mandatory Here, supra note 4.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Kottasová, supra note 5.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] School Pregnancy Tests are Mandatory Here, supra note 4.

[17] Id.

[18] Kottasová, supra note 5. Further, the birth rate is 5.2 children per woman in Tanzania.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Kizito Makoye, Nita Bhalla, Tanzania Slammed for ‘Misguided’ Arrest of Pregnant Schoolgirls, (Jan. 10, 2018),

[22] School Pregnancy Tests are Mandatory Here, supra note 4. The Center for Reproductive Rights is an US-based international advocacy group. Kottasová, supra note 5. 

[23] School Pregnancy Tests are Mandatory Here, supra note 4.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Kottasová, supra note 5.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id. Though these mothers are unable to return to public school, they still have the opportunity to attend private school for about $800 a year after finding a sponsor or they may attend one of the few NGO-funded schools in Tanzania; likely, an unrealistic option for many.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] School Pregnancy Tests are Mandatory Here, supra note 4.

[34] Kottasová, supra note 5.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Karen McVeigh, Tanzania Pardon Two Child Rapists and Calls for Arrest of Pregnant Schoolgirls, The Guardian (Dec. 13, 2017),

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Makoye, supra note 21.

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47] Id.

[48] Kottasová, supra note 5. Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone have similar laws, despite also signing human rights treaties.

[49] McVeigh, World Bank, supra note 1.

[50] Id.