The Tanzanian president’s directive that teenage mothers should not be allowed back in public schools is troubling. The dreams and aspirations of a young girl must not to be sacrificed on the altar of adolescent misbehaviour.
President John Magufuli of Tanzania recently made known his stand on the proposition by civil society groups in the country for the enactment of laws that will enable unwed pregnant teenage girls to return back to school. For President Magufuli, that proposal is not acceptable because if Tanzania allows unwed teenage mothers “back to school, one day we will find all girls who are in Standard One have babies”. President Magufuli further accused NGOs active in Tanzania, especially those funded externally, of being responsible for pushing the agenda.
Most certainly, quite a few foreign NGOs are notorious for funding and pushing ideas which many African communities consider detrimental to their overall advancement. However, in this instance, President Magufuli might - for several good reasons - do well to step back and reassess his professed stand on the issue, for the greater good of Tanzania.
First, the number of teenage girls who get pregnant does not represent the number who are sexually active; many more teenage girls are sexually active and many do not get pregnant or if they do, are quick to procure an abortion. Indeed, it can be inferred that it is the “good” girls who are not street-wise and unable to find their way to procure an abortion, or are too scared to attempt one, or those from wretchedly poor homes, who do not have the connections or money to procure an abortion or take birth control measures, who get pregnant. In essence, many pregnant teenage girls are often victims of circumstances who, if given the opportunity to return to school after childbirth, are sober and able invest their best in their academics.
Further, boys and men who get teenage girls pregnant still roam the school halls or the streets, and although President Magufuli recommends a jail term for such offenders. It is doubtful whether Tanzania is equipped with the resources to catch all guilty runaway fathers. Accurately establishing the paternity of a child in contemporary times requires DNA testing, which remains quite a costly procedure even in advanced societies. The end result is that while the male offenders move on to impregnate the next girl, their victims end up bearing the burden of the act for the rest of their lives.
The dreams and aspirations of a young teenage girl ought not be sacrificed on the altar of adolescent misdemeanor. A second chance should most definitely be extended to these young women to advance intellectually. Although there is no looking down on the Vocational Education Training Centers (VETC) which President Magufuli advocates for pregnant teen mothers, the important aspect here is that it is against the will of these young women. Forcing them into VETC will lead to more disgruntled members of society; depressed mothers raise social deviants. If mothers feel that they have missed out on life as a result of their children, there is every tendency for this feeling to reflect in the child rearing practices they adopt.
On the other hand, statistics show that when women are economically and academically empowered, and indeed have a strong sense of self-fulfillment, they raise children who are able to contribute more to society. Since many teenage girls women who carry pregnancies to birth are those from poor homes, who are unable to afford the cost of abortion, education remains the only pathway available to them for transcending their socio-economic status. Cutting off this hope by sending them to VETC might have negative impacts on whole families and for generations to come.
President Magufuli’s emphasis, perhaps, should be on ensuring that Tanzania’s education system promotes values, morals and such norms that keep pupils and students grounded and focused on higher ideals. Extra-curricular activities that keep pupils and students busy outside of the classroom should be strongly encouraged in addition to appropriate sex education at the right age, with the values of abstinence promoted, since it is what Tanzanian society and culture places emphasis upon. The Swahili proverb, alimao ndio avunao captures it aptly: what one cultivates is what one harvests. Tanzania should invest resources in the training and building of teenagers who focus on personal growth and national transformation in order to harvest the benefits accruable from such investments.
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