Tanzania: Court to rule on education ban for pregnant students

Nairobi— Amicus of rights groups at the African Human Rights Court

Landmark case on Tanzania’s discriminatory ban on pregnant, married or mother students at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights could impact girls’ rights across Africa , the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa, Women’s Link Worldwide and Human Rights Watch said today. The three human rights organizations submitted a joint amicus curiae brief to the court on June 17, 2022.

Joint amicus curiae brief

In November 2020, Equality Now, a global women’s rights organization, and Tike Mwambipile, Executive Director of the Tanzania Women Lawyers’ Association, filed a joint complaint against the Tanzanian government at the African Human Rights Court. and Peoples, a regional court based in Arusha, Tanzania. They are calling for action to reverse Tanzania’s discriminatory ban on pregnant, married or mother students continuing their studies.

“This case represents an important milestone as one of the first cases brought before the African Court on the rights of women and girls,” said Sibongile Ndashe, Executive Director of Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa. “The loss of education and low educational attainment faced by girls in Africa has a long-term cumulative personal and societal impact and can significantly affect girls’ life trajectories.”

The brief stresses that Tanzania’s national, international and regional human rights obligations oblige it to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls and women, to prevent and combat violence against against girls, including in school, and to protect the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the African treaty on the rights of the child, which Tanzania ratified in 2003, specifically protects the rights of girls who become pregnant to pursue and complete their education primary and secondary, without discrimination.

This is the second time an African regional court has heard a landmark case over discriminatory bans on pregnant students or mothers. In December 2019, in a case brought by a coalition of Sierra Leonean and international groups, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that a ban in Sierra Leone that excluded pregnant students and teenage mothers from public schools, which had been in place for 10 years, was discriminatory and ordered the government to repeal it. The court also found that Alternative Schools for Pregnant Students, a largely donor-funded government program, was discriminatory.

The groups, in their brief, provided information on the gendered impact of the denial of access to education on women and girls, including their autonomy, development and personal advancement, as well as the perpetuation cycles of income loss and poverty.

“It’s critical that girls and women around the world face no structural barriers in pursuing their goals,” said Achieng Orero, Senior Counsel at Women’s Link Worldwide, “As co-amicus, we offer a perspective organization that emphasizes the importance of sexual and reproductive rights and the ability of girls and women to pursue their life goals, including obtaining the highest level of education possible”.

The World Bank estimates that every year around 6,500 girls drop out of school in Tanzania – meaning they leave school or are expelled and do not return to the formal education system – because they are pregnant. . On November 24, a year after the case was filed, Tanzania’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology reversed its policy and issued a circular saying that pregnant girls and girls who are mothers are allowed to return to public schools to resume their studies. Tanzania was one of the few countries in Africa to explicitly ban girls who have become pregnant or are mothers from its schools.