Tanzania has for long been known to be stringent on teenage pregnancies and has some of the toughest laws on the continent when it comes to teen pregnancies. This involves the arrest of schoolgirls who fall pregnant.
The narrative that is now being espoused by the Tanzanian authorities is that the arrests are for purposes of catching the impregnators. In Tanzania, impregnating schoolgirls can attract a lengthy sentence of up to 30 years. It may sound noble, in that here the efforts to cull and eradicate child marriages are evident, but a deeper look into this also reveals another dimension.
A few weeks ago, five schoolgirls were arrested in Tanzania for being pregnant, with the authorities proclaiming that the motive was for the girls to assist them in catching the men who had impregnated them. This drew a lot of condemnation as many people were of the argument that the men are the ones who must just be arrested, and not the girls.
John Magufuli, the president of Tanzania, has been seen as one of the most progressive leaders on the continent. But his stance on teen pregnancies will seem to undo all that. His insistence on the arrest of schoolgirls for being pregnant is largely viewed as an affront to the dignity of women. It is a subtle assault on the rights of girls and women, and calls have been growing louder for the practice of arresting schoolgirls to stop.
Last year, in December, Magufuli astounded many when he pardoned two convicted child rapists for raping 10 primary school girls after serving 13 years of their life sentences. There was a huge outcry, but Magufuli seemed alright with that.
What we see in Tanzania may be a more nuanced form of misogyny. It is like these girls are left to resign to their own misery as the state will condemn the girls for getting pregnant. While not condoning teen pregnancies, the harsh attitude exhibited to these girls is quite deplorable in this modern age. Pregnancy is a negative thing that can happen to any girl- education, one of the most precious things in life, comes to a stop.
Arresting girls does not help this any further. What about the state stepping in to assist these girls? Step up the efforts of sex education in schools, assist the unfortunate girls, and so on. When girls are arrested, education for them stops too. Think of all the adverse effects that will befall a woman in a predominantly patriarchal society who is not armed with education!
Human Rights Watch reports that many girls regularly experience sexual harassment and exploitation by teachers in schools and that schools lack adequate protection and confidential reporting mechanisms. This is where the state must intervene, not arresting the girls.
“Prosecuting girls who are victims of sexual exploitation and violence, whilst allowing adult perpetrators to go free, sends out the wrong message,” said Christa Stewart, a lawyer with the charity called Equality Now. The Tanzanian government must re-calibrate its policy and attitude towards this sensitive matter.