Dar es Salaam — The debate is closed. Schoolgirls who become pregnant will not be allowed back into public schools after giving birth, President John Magufuli said on Thursday.
Opening the 64-kilometre Msata-Bagamoyo road during the final leg of his three-day tour of Coast Region, Dr Magufuli said the idea of allowing teen mothers back to school was a foreign concept "championed by NGOs and other people who do not wish the country well".
"There are many alternatives for teen mothers in life. They can join vocational training colleges or seek loans and become small entrepreneurs," he said amid cheers.
The government has been under pressure in recent months from some MPs and activists to let teen mothers to resume their studies after giving birth.
During debate on the 2017/18 budget estimates of the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Vocational Training in Parliament last month, the Social Services Committee and the Opposition urged the government to allow teen mothers back to school. Reading the committee's speech, Mr Hussein Bashe (Nzega Urban-CCM) said allowing young mothers resume formal education would break the poverty cycle.
"Expelling pregnant schoolgirls has condemned many of them and their families to poverty," he said. The issue divided legislators, with one side passionately supporting the proposal and the other fiercely opposing it.
Former First Lady Salma Kikwete, now a nominated MP, was particularly vocal in shooting down the suggestion.
Yesterday, President Magufuli praised Mrs Kikwete, who among dignitaries who attended the function in Bagamoyo.
"I would like to pay tribute to Mama Salma Kikwete for steadfastly opposing the proposal. She did well in Parliament to oppose the idea of letting teen mothers to continue with their studies. Thank you and continue with that stance". Dr Magufuli said those who wanted young girls to resume their studies after giving birth should build their own schools.
"Let those NGOs that are making noise build schools for teen mothers. If we allow young mothers back into public schools we will one day have Standard One pupils rushing back home to breastfeed their babies. This way, we will destroy this nation," he said, adding that allowing teen mothers back to school would encourage more girls to engage in premarital sex
The current education policy allows schoolgirls to sit the Form Four and Form Six examinations as private candidates. However, there is no such arrangement for girls dropping out of primary school.
President Magufuli further said that men and boys impregnating schoolgirls should serve prison sentences as stipulated by the law.
An average of 3,700 schoolgirls in primary and secondary school drop out each year due to various reasons, including pregnancy, according to official statistics.
According to the Basic Education Statistics Report 2016, at least 3,439 secondary school students dropped out in 2015, while the number primary school dropouts was 251.
The acting director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Ms Anna Henga, told The Citizen yesterday LHRC's position on girls' right to education remained unchanged. "The better option is to create an environment that will prevent schoolgirls from becoming pregnant. However, if this fails the solution is not to expel them from school... this amounts to denying them their right to education," she said.
Earlier this month, an official with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in Tanzania defended teenage girls who became pregnant while still in school, saying Tanzania stood to gain by ensuring that teen mothers continued with their studies after giving birth.
Unicef education chief in Tanzania Cecillia Baldesh told The Citizen in an exclusive interview that every adolescent girl had the right to an education as a way of realising their full potential.
A study titled "Adolescents in Tanzania", which was commissioned by Unicef, cites Tanzania as having one of the highest adolescent pregnancy and birth rates in the world.
"Adolescent mothers with less education also have less opportunity and capacity to contribute to economic growth and development. Women that begin childbearing as adolescents, and their children, are therefore more likely to be among the poorest in Tanzanian society," the study says.
President Magufuli's stance on teen mothers may hamper efforts by development campaigners, who support Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and which promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all.