More than 55,000 Tanzanian schoolgirls have been expelled from school over the last decade for being pregnant, perpetuating their vulnerability and poverty, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) said on Thursday.
The findings released today in Forced Out: Mandatory Pregnancy Testing and the Expulsion of Pregnant Students in Tanzanian Schools report on not only the vast numbers of young women affected by this degrading policy, but also the serious human rights implications of forced pregnancy testing and the expulsion of pregnant girls from school.
To save money, schools do not do the standard urine tests, but instead order the teenagers to remove their tops so that teachers or health care providers can look at their breasts and stomachs.
“We have girls who have talked about their breasts being pinched and their stomachs being kneaded,” said Opondo.
Squeezing a girl’s breasts to determine pregnancy is not an accepted medical practice and palpitation of the abdomen is not effective prior to the second trimester, the report said.
The tests are carried out without warning, explanation or consent, to instill fear in the girls. These tests occur as often as once a month.
“Girls are expelled from school regardless of how they get pregnant,”Evelyne Opondo, CRR’s Nairobi-based Africa director, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“A lot of the girls who get pregnant at that age are actually girls who are vulnerable. They are girls from poor families. They are girls who have been exposed to sexual violence,” she said.
One of the girls interviewed for the report was raped at the age of 13. Others were sleeping with older men in exchange for school fees, food or shelter.
“When you expel them from school, you deny them that chance of education. You confine them to that circle of poverty,” said Opondo. “They will remain poor and their children will be poor most likely.”
Expelled teenagers face widespread stigma, the possibility of being forced into marriage and the challenge of providing for themselves and their babies. Some wealthier families are able to send their daughters to private schools but the majority end up looking for “casual” work, or going into prostitution.
Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said:
“Denying pregnant girls their right to an education is a gross violation of fundamental human rights.”
Tanzania has a problem with high teenage pregnancy rates. Over 44 percent of Tanzanian girls have given birth or are pregnant by the age of 19. It also has one of the world’s lowest rates of transition – of both girls and boys – from primary to secondary school, at 36 percent.
The punitive measures meted out by schools ignore the underlying realities that cause adolescent girls to get pregnant in the first place, the report said.