Celebrating International Day of the Girl Child
Issue Number 41 • October 2013
Girls forced to undergo invasive pregnancy tests
…By Natalia Garzon
dolescent girls in Tanzania are routinely and often without warning subjected to invasive, mandatory pregnancy testing, which has led to more than 55,000 of the being expelled or forced to drop out of school in the last decade because of pregnancy. A new report from the Centre for Reproductive Rights reveals that the degrading policy has not only affected vast numbers of young women but infringed on their rights due to forced pregnancy testing and the expulsion from school. “Forcing adolescent girls to undergo pregnancy tests in Tanzanian schools is degrading and utterly discriminatory. It violates both national and international human rights law — regardless of whether these young women are pregnant or not,” said Lillian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Programme at the Centre for Reproductive Rights. She added: “Denying pregnant girls their right to education is a gross violation of fundamental human rights.”
Report In the report, the Centre uncovered that these practices are being used by school officials to shame and scare adolescents in an effort to prevent premarital sex and early pregnancy. However, schools fail to provide reproductive health education or services that could arm students with information to prevent pregnancy. Not surprisingly, contraceptive use among adolescent girls in Tanzania remains minimal with only 10.7 per cent of sexually active women aged 15-19 reported using any birth control method. “Adolescents have the same fundamental human rights as adults, and just like adults, should be able to access the tools they need to make informed choices about their reproductive health,”
noted Dr Clement Julius Mashamba, advocate and the third Vice President of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. “By denying adolescents access to contraceptives and reproductive health education, schools are forcing pregnant girls into early childrearing at the expense of education and other life goals.” The report dubbed Forced Out reveals that in addition to lack of reproductive health education and services, the Tanzanian government has failed to address the high rates of sexual assault and early marriage in the country — serious factors contributing to the instance of adolescent pregnancy.
Among the report’s various recommendations, the Centre calls on Tanzania government to immediately end the illegal practice of forced pregnancy testing in schools and ensure that adolescent girls can continue with their education during and after pregnancy. “If the Tanzanian government really wants to curb the high adolescent pregnancy rate, the Ministry of Education must create and enforce policies to protect female students from sexual violence and coercion in schools,” said Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa at the Centre. She added: “Furthermore, schools must provide quality sexual and reproductive health education and Tanzanian Violence law must be amended to align with interAccording to a 2009 national sur- national human rights laws by raising the vey commissioned by the United Na- marriage age for women to 18 years old.” tions Children’s Fund, nearly three in 10 Shame women between the ages of 13 and 24 in mainland Tanzania reported experiencThe report details more than a dozing at least one instance of sexual vio- en personal accounts of young women being subjected to mandatory pregnanlence before turning 18. Adolescents from rural areas and cy testing in either primary or secondmarginalized communities are more ary school, many of whom describe the vulnerable to forced sexual encounters, experience as shameful, terrifying and placing them at an even greater risk of painful. Those expelled felt ostracized unplanned pregnancy. from family and friends, and worse, Although the Tanzanian govern- that their chances at an education and ment recognizes early marriage often brighter future were ripped away. “What hurt most for me was the way leads to adolescent pregnancy, the country’s own laws allow girls as young as my family turned their back on me,” said 15 to be married off with 40 per cent of Sikudhani Ali*, one of the young women adolescent girls in Tanzania being mar- interviewed. “Even after I had a stillborn ried by the time they are 18. Majority of and wanted to go back to school, my them have reported to being forced into mother said the family had given up on me and would not support my dreams sexual activity.
“What hurt most for me was the way my family turned their back on me. Even after I had a stillborn and wanted to go back to school, my mother said the family had given up on me and would not support my dreams for an education.” Sikudhani Ali
Sikudhani Ali had to drop out of school when she was found pregnant during one of the regular pregnancy tests done in some Tanzanian schools. Picture :Courtesy Centre for Reproductive Rights.
for an education.” In addition to interviewing former and current students throughout the country including Iringa, Kilimanjaro, Pwani, Dar es Salaam and Morogoro regions, the Centre and Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic interviewed more than 26 key stakeholders and experts in education, children’s rights and health, to understand better the legal and policy context in which these practices occur. The Centre also reviewed government laws, regulations, policies, guidelines and studies pertaining to education as well as school and adolescent health. The Centre for Reproductive
Rights is a global legal advocacy organisation that fights to ensure reproductive rights are treated as fundamental human rights. The Centre has worked for more than a decade across various regions in Africa to advance women’s access to reproductive health care through law and policy reform. The Africa programme has focused on the most pressing reproductive health issues in the region, including the high incidence of maternal deaths, including those from unsafe abortion, human rights abuses perpetrated against women seeking reproductive healthcare, and adolescent girls’ reproductive health. The writer is the International Press Officer, Centre for Reproductive Rights
Initiative supports girl-child education in Sudan Thirteen year-old Amal Ahmed Hassan, a grade eight pupil at the Mabrouka Community School, is a living testimony of the intervention’s impact on the community development.
…By Kenyan Woman Correspondent
he common saying that when you educate a woman, you educate an entire community cannot be better demonstrated than through a school improvement project in Sudan. For over five years now, the programme has not only brought positive change to members of Mabrouka community living in the Sudanese town of Edduweim, but has also instilled a saving culture among the young people. Since establishing the Mabrouka Community School in 2000, Plan Sudan has remained at the forefront of girls’ empowerment. The initiative has helped the community to discard traditional practices that hinder the girlchild from accessing education. In the developing world, girls are regarded as the backbone of rural economies. They fetch water and firewood for their households and care for younger siblings. Only the lucky ones go to school despite their great potential as leaders and contributors in community transformation. For many girls, the retrogressive practices have shattered their dreams in education since they are driven into early marriages and in some cases; parents insist that they stay away from school to help put food on the table.
Amal Ahmed Hassan showing her certificate and medal awarded by the Ministry of Education in Sudan for being one of the outstanding students in academic and creativity in Sudan. Picture :Courtesy Plan Sudan.
Her achievement is a source of great pride to her parents and the community at large and an indication that investing in girls has a positive effect on the community — not to mention the girls themselves. In December 2011, Amal was awarded a gold medal by the Ministry of Education in Sudan for being one of the most outstanding students in academics and creativity at an event in Khartoum. Her face beams with joy when she narrates her experiences during the trip. For Amal, the achievements do not end with the medal. She is also the president of Aflatoun Club in her school, which has 200 members. The Aflatoun programme empowers children and youth to make a positive change in their lives through activities that include; story-telling, games, savings club as well as financial and commu-
nity improvement enterprises. Plan Sudan initiated the Aflatoun programme in 2009 and covers nine rural districts, including Edduweim. Currently, the Aflatoun programme has more than 1,665 members. As the president of Aflatoun in her school, Amal understands that it’s her duty to educate the other pupils on saving money as well as encouraging the younger children to enrol in school. The Mabrouka community has created its own initiatives towards improving the education environment as an incentive to encourage enrolment and reduce dropout rates especially among girls. The school has maintained a 100 per cent school completion rates over the last four years, despite the dimensions of poverty in this area. Amal received a boost from SUDA-POST where the company opened a savings account for 30 Aflatoun members as an incentive to go further in to a saving program that contributes towards improving families living conditions. Amal joined secondary school, grade (2), where she scored high to take the top position in the class. Her achievements demonstrate that an educated girl will stay healthy, save money, empower her community and change the world. Courtesy Plan International