Sometimes, girls become pregnant. This probably isn’t a revelation.
I want to talk about two school systems in Sub-Saharan Africa that are dealing with the issue of school-age pregnancy in very different ways.
As reported by Tanzania’s Daily News, 16,999 girls there dropped out of primary and secondary schools between 2006 and 2009 due to pregnancy. Additionally, 30% of Tanzanian girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18 (of course not all pregnancies result from sexual violence, but the figures are obviously partly related). But how does the government respond to this problem? Did they increase sex education classes, provide counseling services, or even instruct teachers to work with the students while they were out of school giving birth?
Well, no. According to a report published by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Tanzanian officials responded to this issue by instituting mandatory pregnancy testing followed by expulsion for positive results. It is important to point out that this expulsion is not legally required, but an apparent reaction by the schools. Even after expulsion, there is a stigma attached to teenage birth, although I am not sure why, given that the report shows that 44% of adolescent girls in Tanzania have either given birth or are pregnant by the age of 19. One young woman, Tatu, has been out of school since 2010, because the school that expelled her refused to supply a transfer letter to her new school. On a positive note, the CRC published the report in order to influence leaders who are currently reviewing the national constitution. They are working to get their findings considered and this practice stopped, among other things. But as Evelyn Opondo, the CRC’s Regional Director for Africa, says, this “is a practice quite prevalent throughout Africa.”
In Uganda, there has been a very different response. New Vision, a Ugandan newspaper, reports that the government plans to give every woman of reproductive age condoms and birth control pills. This obviously includes girls in school, specifically aged 14 to 18. While this doesn’t respond to issues of girls having sex younger than 14, it is a major step to even discuss the point. Whether this actually happens remains to be seen (it would be a political battle in any country, and not inexpensive) is less relevant to my point. Uganda’s problems in this area are not inconsequential, though they are of a smaller scale than in Tanzania. Uganda isn’t tackling this problem from the perspective that pregnant girls get pulled from school and likely do not finish their secondary education, but to tackle the problem that 16 women die of pregnancy-related complications every day in Uganda, and 15 times that number develop complications. The article notes that this puts them significantly behind on the 5th Millennium Development Goal.
But whatever their reasons, Uganda is taking a radical step forward, while the Tanzanian system (however unofficially) is taking a significant step backward. Contraception supply and education, sexual education, and pre- and post-natal support are essential to not only reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, but to care for the girls and their children when they do happen. Try as anyone might, sometimes, girls become pregnant.