AS the constitutional review process continues, it is also an opportunity to ensure that it enshrines equality and democracy for all men and women and boys and girls - all Tanzanians.
According to 2012 Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania, 610 primary school girls dropped out of school due to pregnancy in 2012. In 2011, 5,157 secondary school girls dropped out due to pregnancies. Ministry of education statistics show that 28,600 girls left school between 2004 and 2008 because they were pregnant.
In 2007 one in five secondary school girls fell pregnant and did not finish school. While the statistics show the reality of the situation and give room for action, a number of issues come to play in the perpetuation of school dropouts due to pregnancy - the most blatant being the continuation of and outdated laws as well as outdated customs and traditions.
Among the outdated laws that can be blamed for school girl dropouts is the Education Act of 1978 that was modified in 2002 whereby a pregnant student is expelled from school. This law also states that issues that may cause a student to be expelled include stealing, vandalizing school property, prostitution, drug abuse or an offence against morality.
However, according to the penal code being pregnant is not an offence against morality. Rather, it would seem, the practice of expelling pregnant girls from school is not based on a legal framework but reflects the prevailing interpretation of some school and local authorities as well as some parents. According a journalistic survey on gender based violence by the Tanzania Media Women's Association, (TAMWA) a lot of girls dropped out of school after they were found out to be pregnant.
In Lindi district the figures for school dropouts due to pregnancies are 27 in 2010, 14 in 2011 and 9 in 2012. The report found that many parents took their daughters from school and forced them into marriage when then found out they were pregnant.
Most of these girls are between the ages of 12 and 16. However, the survey showed that the figures do not necessarily give a true picture of the situation as not all such incidents are reported. In some cases, an agreement between the parents and the person involved is reached and the issue is settled at family level. Usually the girl has no say in the matter.
The survey was done in ten districts under the Gender Equality and Women Empowerement project (GEWE II) which TAMWA is implementing in collaboration with the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA), Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association (ZAFELA) and TAMWA's Crisis Resolving Centre (CRC).
There has been discussion on whether expelling a girl from school because she is pregnant is actually helpful to the girl or a case of perpetuating an already bad situation. We all know that not all students who get pregnant do so from their own free choice. Some are raped.
This student who becomes pregnant as a result of rape is then punished by being expelled from school. Because they risk being expelled both from home and school, some school girls resort to abortion when they get pregnant.
And because abortion is illegal in Tanzania, the girls do all sorts of dangerous things to terminate the pregnancies. Some die in the process and some lose their wombs. It is no wonder that some girls commit suicide. And what happens to those who impregnate school girls?
Unfortunately, it's only the girls that get punished. In most cases, the men who impregnate them normally go scot-free. If it's a fellow student, he continues with his education. Incidentally, they are laws that deal with this if the culprits are reported.
The TAMWA survey showed that some students and parents are not aware of this fact. While the mainland continues with this outdated system, in Zanzibar the Young Mothers and Children Protection Act of 2005 allows school girls who become pregnant to return to school after giving birth.
This action ensures that the girl child transforms her life and future by completing her education. Expelling a child from school because she is pregnant and forcing her to get married to avoid family shame are both acts of gender based violence.
This should not be condoned in our society and the laws or policies governing this should be redressed. Futhermore, outdated customs and traditions should be abandoned - forcing a girl to be married because she has become pregnant is detrimental to her growth, health and welfare.
Additionally Law enforcements agents should not allow the culprits to slip through their offices and the courts should punish accordingly and immediately, especially cases of rape. Civil Society Organisations dealing with the rights of women and children such as TAMWA, TGNP, TAWLA, WiLDAF, ZAFELA, WFT, WLAC and others have been campaigning to have a clause that will allow girls who get pregnant to continue with their studies.
It is anticipated that the new Constitution will lay the foundation of what needs to be done to ensure that the girl child enjoys her childhood, gets educated and grows up to participate in her own development, her family's and the nation's. When one segment of society is treated unfairly, there is no equality and rights are being denied.
The new Constitution should right this unfairness. But when all is said and done, You, I, they, those and all, have to play our part to ensure that the girl child has an enabling, safe and friendly environment in the family, school and in the community at large.
The emphasis is on the girl child because she is being unfairly treated. The call for a change in the situation is because every girl and boy has the right to education and a right to pursue their own aspirations, their goals in life, their development, wellbeing and happiness.