AS development stakeholders and human rights activists in the country continue to commemorate 16 days of activism against gender based violence, it has been revealed that rape, forced and arranged marriages are some of the reasons aggravating schoolgirl pregnancies in the country.
Reports from various parts of the country indicate that six out of ten girls aged between nine and 34 years have experienced one form of sexual violence perpetrated by men closer to them. They could be uncles, schoolmates, neighbours or family members.
There are also cases whereby girls are forced out of school for marriage because of poverty in the family. At times girls in certain parts of the country are forced into marriage so that the father can get money (in terms of bride price) so that he can send sons to school. Some of the parents have admitted to have taken bride prices because of hardships in the family.
The problem of forced marriages has now been considered a national problem retarding social and economic development of the country. Again, reports from several parts of the country reveal that girls as young as 12 years old have been forced into marriages in the recent past. The problem is rampant in Mtwara, Lindi, Coast, Tanga, Morogoro, Dar es Salaam regions as well as Unguja and Pemba in the Isles.
The following testimonies collected in the recent random study by the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) try to illustrate the magnitude of the problem. Ms Veice Ngwada (32), a nursing officer in the maternity ward at Mbweni Health Centre in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam city, says the majority of young mothers who deliver at the health facility are aged between 14 and 18 years.
For example, she says, in 2010, some 52 deliveries were by mothers aged between 15 and 18 years. Sharifa Rashid (14), a Form One student at Mabwe Secondary School narrates the ordeal of her friend who dropped out of school in Standard Four. She says her friend failed to continue with education because she was a truant and stated to her that she wanted to get married.
"Her parents did not object to her marriage because, they thought, she might get pregnant and have a child without a legally recognized father." TAMWA findings indicate that early marriages and school pregnancies are caused partly by hardships including long distances to and from schools.
The Kanga Ward Executive Officer in Mvomero District Morogoro Region, Buhatwe Matage, says girls who fall pregnant end up getting married because their parents cannot afford their school fees. Distance is also a nightmare for most of the girls in ward secondary schools.
Those in urban centres are not safe, according to the study, as they become victims of harassment from public transporters. There are several cases of girls falling pregnant by bus drivers and conductors "just because they offer them seating space in public transport. "Long distances to and from schools force schoolgirls into early marriages in order to avoid the daily hustle, apart from staying long hours without food because many of the schools do not provide lunch for the students," he said.
The study recommends increased public awareness on the importance of education, especially for girls, saying; "Education for girls go a long way in ensuring enlightened families, communities and nation as a whole." There is also need for concerted efforts to ensure secondary schools are provided with dormitories especially for girls as well as food during lunch hours. Students are reported to walk an average of ten to 15 kilometres to and from schools. Cases of school dropouts due to reasons related to pregnancies have a critical concern to authorities.
According to the Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Dr Shukuru Kawambwa, a total of 5,157 dropped out of school last year due to reasons related to pregnancy. He said this during a charity to fundraise for the construction of hostels for girls in the country that was held at Mlimani City in Dar es Salaam. "Cases of school pregnancies in the country have become a big national problem," Kawambwa admits.
It is for this reason that the Tanzania Education Authority (TEA) has started special campaigns to sensitise the public to contribute towards construction of hostels for schoolgirls in the country. "Such initiative will go a long way in solving problems facing schoolgirls that contribute to pregnancies," Kawambwa said in Dar es Salaam recently. The minister, on the other hand, said the government is taking several steps aimed at solving the problems on schoolgirl pregnancies in the country.
These include the construction of 1,200 boarding schools by 2015. According to him, the government has also endorsed construction of 100 hostels for about 4,800 schoolgirls. He paid special tribute to TEA for campaigning for public participation in building of hostels for the girls. The authority plans to build about ten hostels in eight regions which are expected to host at least 1,504 schoolgirls at a cost of 2.3bn/-.