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Naki was thrown out of her rural school in Moshi in 2009, after one of her teachers saw her growing belly – full of blue marks and cuts after she had tried to “beat the child to death”.
In Tanzania she is only one of many pregnant teenagers who have been expelled from school and not allowed to return after giving birth, as it has been a pervasive prejudice that returning teenage mothers are a ‘bad influence’.
Today her situation would have been completely different. Thanks to years of lobbying from UNICEF, FAWE and other organizations the Education and Training Policy in Tanzania was revised earlier this year to allow re-admission for girls after they have given birth.
However, according to UNESCO Naki is only one of 65 million girls of primary school age who are out of education because of poverty or gender-based inequality. A range of research also still indicates that the predominant reason for female dropout in Africa is teenage pregnancy.
According to a 2011 report by the United Nations, in Sub Saharan Africa 119 girls per 1,000 aged between 15-19 years are pregnant. In Latin America the numbers are 73, while in England, reported to have the highest level of teenage pregnancy in Europe, the numbers are 40.
Several countries in Africa still have laws that exclude pregnant girls from school, effectively discriminating against the poorest parts of the population.
Neema Kitundu, coordinator at the pan-African organization Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) – explained that this policy has a negative impact not only on women’s life, but also on the socio-economic status and general wellbeing of the population.
“This policy is wrong and it should be illegal,” she said and pointed out that there is a high correlation between the enrolment rate of girls in primary schools and GNP per capita.
“Education is the best tool we have for tackling poverty, because when someone gets educated, they will eventually break the cycle of poverty, earn more and be better able to support their family” she said.
Today the education budget in Tanzania has reached 20% of national spending. It is far more than most countries elsewhere in the world – to comparison the educational budget in the UK is currently 13%.
However, rural schools don’t enjoy the same facilities as their urban counterparts in Tanzania, and children from the poorest areas have to buy their own uniforms, books, equipment and food – something that has led to inequality between rural and urban areas, poor and rich, girls and boys.
“Poor families send their boys to school, while girls have to find other ways to pay for their future” Neema said.
The Real Price of Education
At the end of a long and potholed road on the outskirts of Moshi one of the girls from Kilimanjaro Academy – a Christian secondary school for girls – showed me the real price girls pay for education in Tanzania.
In the dead of night, three girls are sitting around a small hut, looking out on the hills of Kilimanjaro, while summer winds swirl round a collection of filthy beds.
They are waiting for the ‘daddies’, who give them money, schoolbooks, food and uniforms – but also shattered dreams, HIV and growing bellies.
A 14 year-old schoolgirl said: “Education will give me a better life and change my future. I don’t want to be poor like my family.”
An older girl said that education will give her the power to determine her own future. “Imagine sick babies, dying because their mothers cannot read the instruction on the medicine bottle, or people losing all they got because they cannot read the legal documents. We need education,” she said.
Commenting on the fact that they run the risk of destroying their opportunities if they end up pregnant, the 14 year-old said that “education has its price – and I would rather try and fail, than not trying at all”.
Damari, director at Mandaka Teacher Training College confirms the situation. “Yes, girls from poor households are likely to engage in sexual survival strategies to secure support for their schooling” she said.
In her opinion change is not going to happen overnight. “But education help the girls break the generational poverty cycle, and give their children a better life then they had,” Damari added.
Several African countries – Malawi, South-Africa, Zambia and Botswana – have already demonstrated the positive effects of closing the gender gap. They have seen an increase in the availability of educated girls, and sustained economic growth.
In Tanzania the new policy of allowing young mothers to return to school has already resulted in a few girls finding their way back into education. With 77 million children worldwide out of school – we cannot afford to loose a single one.
However, education on its own cannot eradicate poverty, and as long as the barrier of finance still remains, girls pay the price.
Through a muffled phone line to Africa I can hear Naki – now a 16 year-old mother of three saying: “I want to get back to school and be a good example for my children, but I don’t have enough money or time to do it now. I am trapped without money – just like my mother used to be – but I am glad that things will be different when my children grow up”.