This article was originally published on PesaCheck.org, East Africa’s first fact-checking initiative.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli has called for teen mothers who get pregnant while they are still in school to be banned from returning once they have given birth.
Speaking at a rally in Chalinze, a small town in the eastern region of Pwani, President Magufuli chastised NGOs in Tanzania for encouraging teenage mothers to go back to school, stating that they were “finishing the country” and leading to a state of “moral decay” in Tanzania:
If a girl gets pregnant, if it is deliberate or by accident, gives birth and then returns to school, she will teach these others who haven’t given birth that this is okay. The same girl can then go again and get pregnant, give birth and go back to school. And again for a third time. Are we educating parents?
The president added that teen moms attending either primary or secondary school would be banned from going back once they have given birth:
I want to tell them, and those NGOs as well, that during my administration, no girl who has given birth will be allowed to go back to school .
The president went on to say that teen mothers could go elsewhere if they want to get an education, such as the Vocational Educational and Training Authority, or even taking up farming.
The announcement sparked outrage on social media, with Tanzanians using the #ArudiShule (return to school) hashtag to criticize the move, especially considering that over 8,000 Tanzanian girls drop out of school every year due to pregnancy according to a Human Rights Watch report.
So, the question is, do student-mothers influence other students’ reproductive behaviour?
Causes of adolescent pregnancies
According to the Tanzania Health and Demographic Survey (THDS) 2015–16 the rate of adolescent pregnancies in mainland Tanzania is considerably high at 27%. What factors contribute to this figure?
A publication by HakiElimu found citizens opinion on the key contributors to teen pregnancies includes low household income. The publication states that nearly 31% of the respondents (including parents and teenage girls) thought that poverty was a key factor, with difficult economic situations driving parents to marry off their children as they are not able to meet the basic needs of the female children.
The THDS report also shows that fertility varies with economic levels, decreasing with increasing household wealth. Wealthier households also have a higher age at first birth, meaning that poorer households are more likely to have younger mothers, most likely of schoolgoing age.
Corroborating this fact, a UNICEF report shows that one in six young women aged 15–19 is married in Tanzania. These girls get affected psychologically, meaning that many of them are unable to return to school once they drop out.
Another factor in the HakiElimu publication was “poor upbringing and teenage girls own personal desires”. They found that some parents don’t spend time on their children’s morals and upbringing. Another finding was the lack of reproductive education which helps teens to fully understand puberty. “A lot of parents in villages don’t speak to their female children who are going through puberty.” TDHS 2015 data shows that over half of women already experience sex before the age of 16.
The HakiElimu report also found another contributing factor to be the societal view of a girls child’s value is in being married and being a mother.
The TDHS 2015–16 report shows that fertility rates are strongly related to the level of education. It states that women with no education have 3.3 times more children than women with secondary education. Adolescent women with no education are 5 times more likely to have begun childbearing compared to those with secondary or higher education. TDHS 2010 as stated in the UNICEF report (p.12) found that for a majority of the girls who give birth while they are “still children themselves” are in fact not in school.
Are student-mothers key influencers of adolescent pregnancies?
According to the THDS, Zanzibar has a significantly low rate of adolescent pregnancies at 8% compared to mainland Tanzania. Zanzibar introduced a return to school policy in 2010 as a measure to reduce dropouts. Kenya is just in between Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar with 18% adolescent pregnancies. In both these places student mothers are going to school and the adolescent fertility is much lower.
Therefore the statement that student mothers returning to school will influence other students and lead to a rise in teenage pregnancies is MISLEADING. Most research around adolescent pregnancies attribute teen pregnancies to economic factors and the community attitude and upbringing of female children.
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This report was written by PesaCheck Fellow Mwegelo Kapinga, a development consultant, researcher and writer. Mwegelo has previously worked for Twaweza East Africa as a research analyst. The infographics are by PesaCheck Fellow Brian Wachanga, who is a Kenyan civic technologist interested in data visualisation. This report was edited by PesaCheck Managing Editor Eric Mugendi.
PesaCheck, co-founded by Catherine Gicheru, is East Africa’s first fact-checking initiative. It seeks to help the public separate fact from fiction in public pronouncements about the numbers that shape our world, with a special emphasis on pronouncements about public finances that shape government’s delivery of so-called ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ or SDG public services, such as healthcare, rural development and access to water / sanitation. PesaCheck also tests the accuracy of media reportage. To find out more about the project, visit pesacheck.org.