Five pregnant schoolgirls and their parents were arrested in Tanzania over the past weekend on the orders of a local government administrator. The reasoning behind the arrests was reportedly that they wanted to find the men who had impregnated the girls. These pregnant pupils and their parents have now been released on bail and will not be charged.
Director of the Arusha-based Community for Children’s Rights, Kate McAlpine, told the BBC that the Tanzanian law doesn’t actually allow for pregnant teens to be arrested because ‘the 1998 Sexual Offences Provisions Act does not criminalise underage sex’.
However, the District Commissioner of Tandahimba District, Sebastian Waryuba, believes that the schoolgirls and their parents should remain detained until the men who impregnated them have been found, as authorities are reportedly still looking for them. Waryuba’s stance is based on the fact that the increasing number of teen pregnancies in the district is a cause for concern. Treating the symptoms instead of the cause is probably not the best way to go about solving the problem, however.
Arresting underage girls for falling pregnant further adds to the shame society imposes on them, while the dignity of the men who impregnated them stays intact. South African TV director and actress Mmabatho Montsho has eloquently articulated this point:
I’ve always felt that it’s not the pregnancy itself that ruins a girl’s life, but rather how society responds to it. https://t.co/xWLdres0ZE
— Mmabatho Montsho (@MmabathoMontsho) January 9, 2018
It’s the stigma attached to young motherhood that has more than 15 000 pregnant schoolgirls dropping out every year in Tanzania, and President John Magufuli’s call to not allow teenage moms back in school after giving birth adds insult to injury. Not to mention the nurses who shame young girls who actually make use of the services that family planning clinics offer.
Thankfully, gender and human rights activists are of a different and more sensible opinion. According to Daily Nation, they argued that ‘the authorities should arrest the men who sired the babies, not the students.’