Washington — The World Bank has approved a US$500 million education loan to Tanzania without requiring the government to end its policy of expelling pregnant schoolgirls, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 31, 2020, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors voted to provide the loan to fund Tanzania's secondary education program.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli has vigorously supported a ban on pregnant students and vowed to uphold it throughout his term. Tanzanian schools routinely force girls to undergo intrusive pregnancy tests and permanently expel those who are pregnant. The authorities have arrested some schoolgirls for becoming pregnant. An estimated 5,500 pregnant students stop going to school every year, although previous estimates indicate that close to 8,000 students have been forced to drop out of school each year.
"The World Bank should be working with governments to move education systems toward full inclusion and accommodation of all girls in public schools, including those who are pregnant or parents," said Elin Martinez, senior children's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Instead, the World Bank failed to use its leverage and caved to Tanzania's discriminatory ban and practices, undermining its own commitment to nondiscrimination."
The World Bank loan includes funds to build a system of "alternative education pathways," a fee-based parallel system of nonformal education centers for children who drop out of formal education, and a cornerstone of Tanzania's Secondary Education Quality Improvement Program (SEQUIP). This program was developed as a response to the World Bank's decision to withhold a $300 million loan for secondary education in Tanzania in part because of the government's mistreatment of pregnant girls.
Under SEQUIP, studying in these alternative centers is the only option for girls expelled from schools for being pregnant. But these alternative education pathways cannot be portrayed as providing the equivalence of education in formal public lower secondary schools. These centers will not be tuition-free, and will provide a condensed version of the curriculum.
In its endorsement of the loan, the World Bank considered that girls who are pregnant or have a baby merely "drop-out" of school. In framing the issue this way, the World Bank disregarded independent evidence that shows that girls are expelled, humiliated by school officials and teachers when forced to take a pregnancy test or discovered to be pregnant, and rejected by their own peers as a result.
The World Bank did not address the concerns about the ban in approving the loan, Human Rights Watch said. The Tanzanian government has not adopted a policy or decree that clarifies girls' right to stay in school during and after pregnancy or provided assurances that it will reintroduce the "re-entry" policy struck down by Parliament in 2017.
All governments should take immediate measures to ensure that secondary education is available and accessible to all free of charge and make education compulsory through the end of lower secondary school, Human Rights Watch said.
The World Bank should not disburse the initial tranches of the loan until the government respects its obligations to guarantee equal access to free and compulsory primary education and equal access to lower secondary education for girls. The government should immediately end the discriminatory ban and adopt a ministerial decree that instructs all schools to immediately cease pregnancy testing and stop expelling pregnant girls.
Tanzania is one of two African countries that explicitly ban pregnant girls or adolescent mothers from government schools. In recent years, many African governments have made strong commitments to ensure that pregnant girls and mothers can attend school. Human Rights Watch research has found that laws, policies, and guidelines that protect pregnant girls' and adolescent mothers' right to education are key to ensuring girls are not discriminated against at school.
All African governments should adopt human rights-compliant "continuation" policies that are fully put into effect nationwide, spelling out girls' rights so that school and ministry staff have clear guidance on how to support and provide special accommodations for young mothers at school, Human Rights Watch said.
The World Bank's backtracking on pregnant girls' right to education also raises concerns about the bank's broader commitment to implementing its Environmental and Social Framework, which guarantees that bank loans will not be used to further discrimination. Other groups that are subject to state-sponsored discrimination in Tanzania, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, may be at greater risk if the government sees indications that the bank is not upholding its own nondiscrimination principles.
"Contrary to the World Bank's portrayal of the Tanzanian loan, 'alternative pathways' will never match what children get in formal, compulsory education," Martinez said. "Unlike most out-of-school children who have a choice of returning to school, pregnant girls are arbitrarily denied the right to return to school and forced into a parallel system."