By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
In 2018, could you imagine a public school mandating that female students be required to take a pregnancy test twice a year? Can you also conceive that a positive pregnancy result would cause her to be kicked out of public school for good? This is exactly what is happening to black girls in Tanzania. Using a morality clause from a 2002 education law, Tanzania has the ability to expel pregnant students from school and no longer provide them with a public education. The practice dates back to the 1960’s, but their President John Pombe Magufuli, who was elected in 2015, has begun enforcing this archaic and ill-conceived law since taking office. The country’s previous administration had worked to create a policy that would have allowed teenage mothers to return to school.
But before we shake our heads in disbelief, let’s remember that we have made some pretty bad decisions in the United States about dealing with pregnant girls, as well. Many of us are old enough to recall when a pregnancy of a school-aged girl made her a pariah. She was branded with her own version of a scarlet letter, put out of school, and ostracized by the community. These pregnancies were hidden when possible but often resulted in girls being sent away to give birth in secret.
Particularly troubling about both Tanzania and how we have viewed these pregnancies here in the U.S., is the implied assumption that these pregnancies were the result of consensual relationships. Yet, given the information we now know about the rate of sexual assault, both domestically and abroad, through policies such as these, girls are often being re-victimized. It is estimated that nearly 20% of Tanzanian women have experienced sexual violence. In the U.S, 1 out of 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault. Since 1998, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape.
It has been lost on far too many, that in most countries, a 16-year-old can’t legally consent to sex. So as opposed to referring to cases of “teen pregnancies”, seldom do we discuss them as incidents of “statutory rape”. Of course, we know that teens will have sex and with a lack of education and resources, pregnancies are likely to occur. That’s why it is even more stunning that in Tanzania, the government ordered the suspension of family planning advertisements on both television and radio. In addition, sex education is not a part of the national curriculum.
As we debate a number of issues in America, surrounding a woman’s reproductive health and rights, immigration policy and who deserves to enter this country, there is so much at stake. When we talk about restoring this nation to a former perceived period of “greatness”, the likelihood is that it wasn’t great for everyone. The shift, in Tanzanian policy about pregnant girls being permanently expelled from school, was the result of voting a different administration into office. I hope you remember that on November 6.