opinionBy Marycelina Masha
SEVENTEEN year-old Fatuma Ibrahim is picked every morning around 7.00 am by a boda boda driver who drops him at her school located in the Mwendapole neighbourhood, Kibaha District, Coast Region.
Fatuma's parents are aware of the rigours students face when using public transport and have reserved a certain amount to foot the bill for their child's transport to and from school.
On a monthly basis, the parents pay 120,000/- for the bodaboda, which is in fact a motorcycle, now a cheaper and fastest means of commuter transport. Expected to take her Form Four examinations this year however, Fatuma did not join her fellow students in completing the last leg of her secondary school education.
Three weeks before the girl was to take her exams, she was diagnosed with pregnancy, three months of it! The parents were angry and devastated. The entire family held a meeting to discuss the unfolding episode and if there was any possible option for the child to be assisted to sit the examinations amid the pregnancy.
"We resolved to consult with the headmaster and seek his advice. We thought of the years the child was in school and the money we spent on her education. It was hard to believe that all that had gone down the drain," says Fatuma's mother, herself a primary school leaver and housewife.
But even after consulting with the headmaster, it was not easy to convince Fatuma to sit her exams. Word had already gone around that she was pregnant, so she feared the reaction of her fellow students and especially her friends.
As if the blow was not enough, when Fatuma's family made efforts to find out who was responsible for their child's pregnancy, they were shocked to discover that the bodaboda man whom they had entrusted with the safety of their child had changed into a wolf.
In other words, he was the one who put Fatuma in the family way! Later on, after the end of the National Form Four examinations, reliable reports from Fatuma's school of Miembe Saba indicated that five girls failed to take their exams due to pregnancy.
How safe are school girls at any moment? Many parents think that education for self awareness is essential to girls throughout the time they are in school. Self awareness means having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions.
It allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in any moment. "When girls are constantly reminded that they must know how to protect themselves emotionally and physically, and that any sexual advances have terrible consequences, those who prey on them to satisfy their sexual desires, will find it hard to lure them," says Zahra Jumbe, a Human Resources Manager at a local bank.
Zahra, who is about to retire, proposes a different education system that assures that girls have no access to temptations of devices like mobile phones and freedom to loiter. "If you put girls under one roof for the rest of the term they are in school, you are certain of their safety.
When they return home for holidays, parents must make sure they monitor their movements," she says and emphasizes on teaching girls about the various changes in their bodies and how they should form resistance around their entire environment, to dispel what she calls evil forces.
A different approach however, comes from Dina Yona, a long serving secondary school teacher who blames men for this catastrophe and warns that even if girls would be enlightened through education for self awareness and even against HIV/AIDS, it still is a shame that school girls are blamed when becoming pregnant. What's even worse, society punishes girls for a 'crime' committed by two people.
"While girls are forced to drop out of school, and grapple with the burden of taking care of their babies, those who made them pregnant know how to escape from the hook," she says. Her opinion is that girls have a right to enjoy life just as boys do. To bar them from such freedom is to deny them a basic right and this is not fair.
The headmaster of Mbande Primary School in Azimio, Muheza District, Jumanne Athman, says parents must sacrifice whatever they are earning to ensure their girls are in safe hands.
"At no time should the parents leave their children in suspicious hands. I think it is also important to lecture them on self awareness, from time to time," he says and warns that if parents will shy away from talking to their children about their vulnerability, the outcome is painful than they could imagine.
Available data from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training show that 5,157 girls dropped out of school last year after becoming pregnant. The sad trend, according the Minister Dr Shukuru Kawambwa, has affected girl enrolment in secondary school which has dropped from 48 per cent in 2004 to 45 per cent in 2009.