It's a Friday afternoon at the studio of Radio Kwizera FM in the rural district of Kasulu, Tanzania. Sixteen year olds Letsia and Ringaniza put on their headphones as they get ready for their weekly show. The top story of the day: teenage schoolgirls who get impregnated by teachers.
Radio Kwizera offers the opportunity for young people to discuss topics that concern, excite or simply interest them. For this edition of their show, entitled 'The Voice of the Child Be Heard', the girls decide, it is time to speak out about a sensitive topic that affects peers in their community and classrooms
As Letsia ensures the microphone is at the right distance from her co-host's face, she takes off with the interview. "Now, Ringaniza, today's theme deals with teenage pregnancies. What do you know about this?"
"What I can say," Ringaniza replies, "is that most of these pregnancies are caused by teachers. You find teachers in our school who start befriending students and give them special treatment once they come of age. The students fall into this trap and start enjoying the preferential treatment. The teacher, having established this, then starts asking for sexual favours and offers the student to help her pass her exams. The student is promised help to get good grades that will secure her a position in good high schools. The student then gives in to the teachers' demands and ends up pregnant."
Marko Dionis Kumudyanko, a 30-year-old teacher at a secondary school in Kasulu, can confirm what Letsia and Ringaniza are talking about: transactional sex.
"It is indeed true that we have some teachers around who develop sexual relationships with female students," he says. "Some will, for example, give the girls bus fares, breakfast money, gifts or other special treatments." According to Kumudyanko, the favours can mislead students - especially those who live in poverty - into thinking that sexual transactions have the potential to improve their educational or economic situation.
Yet Kumudyanko believes that teachers are responsible for only a small proportion of all teenage pregnancies. He points out that peers and even adults outside the classroom, such as businessmen who proposition schoolgirls they encounter on the street, can also be held accountable.
Regardless, for those who end up pregnant, life often only gets harder. "After falling pregnant," Kumudyanko says, "government schools do not allow them to re-enrol."
"Someone to love"
Once a Kasulu high school student herself, JN elaborates on the social stigma that young women in her situation face. "At school, they expelled me when they found out I was pregnant. At home, they blamed me for the shame it brought upon our family," she says.
Describing how the situation began to unfold, JN recalls: "I was 18 years old and attending my final year in secondary school. My favourite subject was chemistry, so I asked my chemistry teacher for extra lessons. He convinced me to start a love affair with him and provided me with pocket money, clothes, school fees, and kept giving me extra chemistry lessons."
Today JN stresses the need for contraception and more openness. "We need guidance from parents," she says, "because many of us teenagers like having someone to love - this makes us vulnerable."
According to UNICEEF, over 40 per cent of Tanzanian women begin bearing children by age 18. That makes Tanzania a country with one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world.
Meanwhile, from Radio Kwizezra's studio, Ringaniza's own ideas on tackling the problem of transactional sex are being broadcast throughout the province of Kigoma.
"When a teacher starts engaging in sexual talk with a student, the student should report the teacher to the head teacher, who should, in turn, report the teacher to the relevant authorities," says Ringaniza. "Also, very stiff penalties should be given to such teachers prying on their students so that others may fear engaging in this vice."