Tanzania has promised to build a nation where everyone should have the opportunity to get a high school diploma, except if you’re a pregnant teenage girl.
“After getting pregnant, you are done!” President John Magufuli told a crowd, the BBC reported on June 22.
The president was speaking at a rally in the town of Chalinze, where crowds greeted his statements with applause. In 2015, Tanzania implemented a free education policy for high school, but the president now says that right does not extend to young mothers.
“I’m giving out free education for students who have really decided to go and study, and now you want me to educate the parents?” Magufuli told the crowd.
“After calculating some few mathematics she’d be asking the teacher in the classroom ‘let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby,’” he added.
Last year, Human Rights Watch found that more than 40% of Tanzanian adolescents aren’t in school and less than a third of girls made it to high school and an estimated 8,000 girls drop out each year.
Magufuli seems to believe that teenage mothers are the problem of NGOs, not the state. Tanzania already had a historically high rate of dropouts for girls, mainly due to pregnancy and early marriage. That has a myriad of resulting development challenges, such as a lack of proper healthcare for mother and child, illiteracy and poverty.
In the past, the state and NGOs have worked together to educate teen girls about birth control and their rights, but there’s no telling what effect Magufuli’s comments may have on these efforts.
Some Tanzanian schools already ostracize girls by conducting invasive and compulsory pregnancy tests, and expelling girls who test positive, the report found. Once they’d given birth, they were barred from returning. No similar punishment was outlined for boys or the teachers who impregnate their students.
“There are teachers who engage in sexual affairs with students—I know many [girls] it has happened to…If a student refuses, she is punished,” a 17-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch. “Even if you report the matter it won’t be taken seriously. It makes us feel unsafe.”
Magufuli did suggest, however, that men who impregnated schoolgirls should be imprisoned for 30 years and put to work on farms.
When he took office in 2015, Magufuli was hailed as a president unafraid to roll-up his sleeves alongside citizens. His nickname, “The Bulldozer,” was meant as a compliment for his relentless work ethic. He’s now become better known for steamrolling the media and civil society and anyone who criticizes him. His style has also brought him into conflict with major business operators in Tanzania.