GOVERNMENT statistics say it all. According to the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, during the period of five-years, between 2004 and 2008, a total of 28,590 schoolgirls in the country dropped out of school as a result of unwanted pregnancy, 11,599 being secondary school students and 16,991 primary schools.
A recent report from Karagwe district in Kagera region, an overwhelming 85 per cent of all secondary and primary school students who fell pregnant in the last three years tested HIV-positive. "The problem is mainly the work of crafty men fond of sweet-talking gullible primary and secondary school students into unsafe sex," says the Regional Commissioner (RC), Fabian Massawe.
"These evil-minded men turn to the poor students wrongly believing that children of such relatively tender age have not been infected with the AIDS virus, but the consequences are catastrophic," he noted. Massawe said when he was transferred to the district in 2008 (from Kinondoni District in Dar es Salaam) the problem was serious "because the majority of students taken to hospitals for pregnancy tests also tested HIV-positive".
"A total of 102 schoolgirls fell pregnant that year alone but last year the number dropped to 45 and so far this year 20 schoolgirls have been put in the family way. In all three cases, the number of those also testing HIV-positive comes to 85 per cent," he added. Given the seriousness of the problem, explained the RC, the government has had to intervene "by deploying a strategy of monitoring and arresting all those confirmed to have made schoolgirls pregnant".
"When I was moved to this district, the situation was alarming but the government's intervention has helped to lower the number of schoolgirls falling pregnant," he pointed out. Massawe explained that some of "these destructive men" lure the students with money and gifts such as cell phones which facilitate communication between them.
He said the government has also been arresting parents whose school-going children fall pregnant, adding that some schoolgirls are made pregnant by their own schoolmates or other boys. "The holding of the respective parents is meant to help sensitise other parents on the need for them to make a close follow-up of their children's movements and behaviour," he stated, and went on to reveal that they also deployed "secret informers" who cooperate with police in arresting people dating or flirting with schoolgirls.
He explained that nine teachers have been taken to court charged with impregnating schoolgirls. Massawe said the challenges facing them in fighting against early pregnancies included the fact that the law is silent on the action that ought to be taken against schoolgirls falling pregnant. "Our laws stipulate the action to be taken against those impregnating the girls but it is silent on the girls, while it logically ought to have dealt with both parties," he argued.
He said another challenge was that investigations into schoolgirl pregnancies usually take very long, sometimes up to six years, before confirmed offenders are sentenced. The RC appealed to the public to cooperate with the relevant authorities "at least by reporting incidents relating to suspicious behaviour or practices by schoolgirls so that this war is indeed fought jointly".
Mamelta Martin of Iguruwa village in the district, one of the parents taken to court after her daughter was impregnated, said it was hard for her "because I had never imagined I would one day land in court because of misconduct by my own daughter". She said her daughter was 17 when she was impregnated by a young man some three years older, adding: "It was a really difficult time for me because the girl vanished soon after discovering that she was pregnant.
Her father had declared that he did not want to see her in his house." Dr Pascal Ndyamkama of Rwaybza Mission Hospital explained that the rate of early pregnancies in the district was "really high" and some girls had been tempted into seeking herb-induced abortions - which he said carried serious risks. "Most schoolgirls seeking such abortions develop serious problems and are rushed to district hospitals and even referred to the regional hospital for specialised care. But sometimes it is too late," he said.
He added that two students died earlier this year after attempting herb-induced abortion in the hands of traditional birth attendants. Girls as young as 11 years are having sex in exchange for cheap gifts like sanitary towels, body lotion, perfumed soap and snacks. Most of them get pregnant before their 17th birthday, with many dropping out of school to fend for themselves and their children.
They are driven into these relationships mainly by poverty, parental neglect and-- as some put it-- mere pleasure of having an older boyfriend with 'lots of money' to boast about. Take, for instance, Mary Kamugisha who is 17 and seven months pregnant. A former Form Three student, she had to abandon education when her pregnancy started showing.
"I was too shy to ask my father for sanitary towels, so I asked my stepmother who referred me back to my father or told me that I was a big girl and needed to fend for myself. Many a time, I went without sanitary towels," she says.
In October last year, she entered into a relationship with a 22-year-old Pascal Musa. "Every month, he would buy me soap, lotion and sanitary towels and on a good day, he would give me pocket money of about 3000/-," she says. She would return the favour with unprotected sex although she reveals that this is not her first man as her first sexual experience was when she was 16.
"It is the poverty and need that causes us to sin. Men give us things that our parents cannot afford to buy us such as sanitary towels, perfumed soap and lotion," she continues. Unfortunately, she fell pregnant in December last year-- three months into her illicit affair with Pascal. "He said it was OK and he would support me once I give birth. He, however, told me that I could not live with him in his cubicle at his relative's house.
He said I should stay at our home but he wouldn't abandon me," she says. Such girl pregnancies are some of the society vices that the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment programme (GEWE II) seeks to fight.
The programme is implemented in ten districts of Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. The districts includes; Wete (Pemba North), Unguja Urban West (Unguja West), Unguja South, Kisarawe (Coast), Newala (Mtwara), Mvomero (Morogoro), Lindi Rural, Ruangwa (Lindi) and two Dar es Salaam Districts of Kinondoni and Ilala.