Tanzania: Early marriages and pregnancies hinder girls' education

Women's rights activists campaign to raise the age of marriage in Tanzania
Authorities in Tanzania have expressed concern over the large numbers of pupils, mostly girls, who drop out of school because of pregnancy, teenage marriage, child labour or truancy.
President Jakaya Kikwete said the number of primary school drop-outs rose to 44,742 in 2006 from 32,469 the previous year. A total of 7,734 students abandoned secondary school in 2006, up from 6,912 in 2005, the president said in his monthly address to the nation.

"We must find the solution to this problem as soon as possible," said Kikwete, calling for the arrest of people who made school-girls pregnant and urging parents and community leaders to ensure teenage girls completed school.

Thirty percent of Tanzanian children enrolled in school fail to complete seven years of primary education, while in secondary schools, the drop-out rate is 20 percent, Ludovic Mwananzila, deputy minister for education and vocational training, told IRIN. He said that drop-outs due to pregnancy were higher in some areas than in others, citing the southern region of Mtwara where at least 400 school-girls became pregnant in 2006. In Rukwa in the southwest, 200 school-girls discontinued their education because of pregnancy.

"Some parents do not take the education of their children seriously. They do not inquire about progress and performance of their children in school," said Mwananzila.

Kikwete said some of those becoming pregnant were as young as 11. "It is absurd," Kikwete said at a rally in the western district of Mpanda last week.

Mwananzila said in some cases, especially among the pastoral communities, parents demanded that boys look after livestock instead of going to school. Awareness levels were, however, rising among those communities and more of their children were going to school, Mwananzila said. "We are getting good reports from Manyara and Arusha regions, where the Maasai children are now allowed to go to school," he said.

Women activists have accused the government of delaying a review of the law on marriage, especially provisions that allow a girl to marry at 14 or 15.

"The government should make it illegal for a girl to be married at younger than 18 because she is still a minor as far as the country’s constitution is concerned," said Ananilea Nkya, director of the Tanzania Media Women Association. "The Law of Marriage Act [1971] allows a girl as young as 14 to be married."

8 June 2007