6 December 2012

Tanzania: The 'Lone Ranger' Fighting for Girls in Handeni

SCHOOL GIRL pregnancies can be put to an end if all concerned parties take their stands in the fight. In efforts to implement this action, Handeni District has managed to take a step which other districts can borrow from them and act upon.

Handeni District Commissioner, Muhingo Rweyemamu has chosen to devote his time in fighting the trend which is denying girls the right to education. What has been revealed about schoolgirl's pregnancies in the area, however, may not be all that new.

The latest development on initiatives being made to cope with the problem which has spurred a new debate on this issue of national significance and which we tend to take for granted.

Rweyemamu says that last year alone, around 900 students dropped out of school and by June, this year an additional 23 had to terminate their studies because of unplanned pregnancies. 900 girls dropped out of school due to the pregnancy factor alone.

It has also been reported that in one school which enrolled 96 boys and 96 girls four years ago, only 26 girls and 76 boys sat for the form four examinations. Such figures are alarming and they should not be left unattended if parents, leaders, government and activists want to solve the issue once and for all.

From this incident, it means that more than 70 per cent of the girls have prematurely lost their self advancement opportunity due to untimely pregnancies, compared to less than 20 per cent of the boys who, for one reason or another, have also failed to complete their ordinary level studies. The contrast, however, is clearly significant. But what is happening in Handeni is not an isolated case.

A similar situation prevails in many other districts, especially in rural areas. Reasons behind this trend, which is not supposed to be entertained in the 21st Century society, are more or less the same and don't seem to be contained at a desired pace. At the core of the problem is failure by parents to appreciate and value the importance of education to girls. This is an old mentality, but one fails to understand why it is still prevalent among some citizens in many areas of the country, 50 years after independence.

As a result of this attitude, parents of schoolgirls who get impregnated are not upset by the otherwise bad news, but are willing to settle the matter at family level and where possible, fix quick marriages between their daughters and those responsible for the pregnancies.

As far as such parents in the district are concerned, Muhingo said, it is fine for their daughters to get married at the expense of terminating their studies as, after all, one of the life achievements of any woman is to be married and produce children. Behind such a mentality, however, is the appetite for getting dowry, which today is paid in cash form - and some parents demand a substantial amount of what is derogatorily also referred to as bride-price.

Cases of schoolgirls impregnated by randy adults supposed to be their parents are well documented in the district, surprisingly very few seem to be worried by the moral falling apart which is another reason behind the social problem. The most disturbing trend however, Muhingo lamented, is the fact that the victims are put in this kind of situation by their teachers and close relatives at home, who are expected to play the role of guardians.

The Handeni case has attracted attention because of the latest developments where the new DC is reportedly tackling the problem of schoolgirls' pregnancies head on. Muhingo said he has issued an order that school girls who get pregnant should be arrested by police and interrogated to get the identity of the men behind their ordeal, so that the latter can face the long arm of the law.

Parents of the compromised girls who prefer to sweep this muck under the carpet are not spared either. By these acts, the DC earned some enemies and friends, although the number of the latter is said to be on the high side. A good thing in the fight is the fact that human rights activists, religious leaders and upright politicians are also giving him a pat on the back, since the lone ranger approach rarely solves problems of this nature.

A section of people interviewed on what should be done called for a constitutional backing by including the right to education in the bill of rights expected to be part and parcel of the new mother in the making. Thereafter, a wide range of policies, subsidiary laws and even institutions can be put in place to effectively combat this outdated malpractice.

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