Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

31 March 2014

Tanzania: Educating Girls Protects Them From Early Pregnancy

STATISTICS that a total of 5,157 girls dropped out of primary schools due to pregnancies last calendar year, mean so much to little Glades Mtiro.

Being a daughter of subsistence farmers, she grew up at Kange in Tanga, a flat and sparsely populated area. At 15, she met a man twice her age and cultivated a relationship. She then got pregnant.

After the man could not look after her and their baby girl, she moved to Dar es Salaam as she had dropped out of school due to her pregnancy. Now 17, Ms Mtiro is a single mother without an education, earning her living as a house cleaner, on a wage that barely feed her and her one year -old daughter.

"I had to stay at home to look after my younger brothers but my parents had something else in mind for me and here I am now," she said, shaking her shoulders while her infant wailed.

Because of the slanted societal perception about the worth and abilities of the girl child, it is important that a deliberate and continued action is taken to counter forces that denigrate their potential. It is, for instance, disturbing that 57 per cent of girls still miss at least three days of school time per month because of absence of and unaffordability of sanitary facilities (SNV survey 2013).

And because majority are psychologically young to deal with this biological change, some drop out of school altogether. The resultant effect of school drop-out is early child marriage.

The Child Act stipulates the rights of the child to education, protection from harmful customary practices and places responsibilities for child protection on parents, guardians, local governments and all persons charged with child care.

It is, therefore, important that the implementation of pro-child laws is effectively done to save the girl-child from early marriage and all children from all forms of abuse.

Otherwise, if we continue making condemnations without definitively and consistently acting against perpetrators of early child marriage and abuse, the flag for the future, which our children hold, will be torn before tomorrow. Following the unfortunate scenario of school pregnancies, the number of girls in secondary schools has decreased from 48 per cent in 2004 to 45 per cent in 2009.

It is the reason the Ministry of Education and vocational Training recently organised a charity to support schools build hostels. The event aims at raising funds to set up 30 hostels in the country in a quest to accommodate primary schools girls.

"The charity walk is one of the government's strategies to help schoolgirls from early pregnancies and marriages," said Dr Shukuru Kawambwa. He added that the shortage of dormitories in primary and secondary schools also contributes to poor academic performance among schoolgirls.

On the other hand, Dr Kawambwa said that the government will review the policy on girls' education in a bid to come up with better ways of helping pregnant schoolgirls to continue with education. He, however, said that the victims are allowed to seek secondary education informally by registering as private candidates.

He said that the charity walk organized by Tanzania Education Authority (TEA) would enable the government to build hostels in eight regions. Tanzania has been cited as one of the countries with the highest number of child pregnancies, with 16,999 girls dropping out of school in 2006 to 2009.

According to the Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children, Sophia Simba, school truancy among girls has increased from 11,264 girls in 2009, which is equivalent to 36.2 per cent to 48,026 in 2010, which is equivalent to 72.7 per cent.

She said that these challenges and many more have contributed to the dwindling number in girls who perform well in school, saying that in last year's form four examinations, only 7 per cent of girls passed. She said that the society is supposed to invest heavily in girls' education, saying this is a proven way of tackling poverty in most developing nations.

"By educating a girl child, it is one way of saving her from child pregnancy, because experience shows that each year of educating girls give them more chances of making good decisions," she said.

She said that the government will continue taking strict measures against people who impregnate young girls, because according to the law, it is an offence for a man to involve himself in a sexual relationship with a girl who is under 18 years.

The deputy minister said that according to a 2009 report by UNICEF, three out of 10 girls experience sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18 years.

According to this survey, 49 per cent of these abuses take place at home, 23 per cent while the girls head to and from school while 15 per cent takes place in schools. He said that statistics indicate that 10 million girls are forced into early marriages while in developing countries one out of three girls gets married before they reach the age of 18.

"The aim of this campaign was to improve the living conditions of girls and give them an equal opportunity in education, basic studies and protect them against gender violence," he said.

He said that among other things, the campaign will also work to increase skills, knowledge and awareness of girl's vulnerability to gender based violence within family, school and communities.

Like many other African countries, Tanzania is struggling with providing equal education for their girls and because there is a lack of education in the community, girls end up suffering much more than the boys. TAMWA, through support from Foundation for Civil Society, seeks to change the status-quo.

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