Tanzanian President John Magufuli said students who become pregnant should not be allowed to finish their studies after giving birth, sparking outrage from women’s rights campaign groups.
“I give money for a student to study for free. And then, she gets pregnant, gives birth and after that, returns to school. No, not under my mandate,” the president said while visiting Chalinze, around 100 kilometres west of the economic capital Dar es Salaam.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch published last week, school officials in Tanzania were conducting pregnancy tests in order to expel pregnant students, thus depriving them of their right to an education.
Magufuli hit back, saying if Tanzanians listened to western human rights organisations, “all the students in an entire class could have babies”.
“In that case, what would happen? While the teacher is conducting class, they’ll all leave to nurse their babies? Never under my mandate”, he said. “If the NGOs really love these students they should open special schools for mothers.”
Several members of the government have publicly defended the right for teens to continue their secondary school education after having children.
Magufuli’s comments drew the ire of the African organisation for women’s rights Femnet, which called them “unacceptable” and “disgusting”.
“With all the work we have done to emancipate Africa’s girls from the shackles of discrimination and violation, a sitting president turns around and [treats] their situation like a terrible infectious disease which other girls must be protected from,” said Dinah Musindarwezo, who heads Femnet.
“It is unfortunate that instead of addressing sexual violence in schools – which is why girls are getting pregnant – President Magufuli aims to re-victimise young girls by denying them their right to education,” said campaign group Equality Now director Faiza Mohammed.
An online petition called for Magufuli to retract his statement and set up a legal structure to allow pregnant students to continue their studies after giving birth.