President John Magufuli: “After Getting Pregnant, You Are Done!”

When he took office in 2015, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli was hailed as a president unafraid to roll-up his sleeves alongside citizens. His nickname, “The Bulldozer,” was meant as a compliment for his relentless work ethic. Magufuli has however come under attack for controversial and regressive remarks that girls would not be allowed back to school if they became pregnant and gave birth.

File picture. A pregnant student poses on July 29, 2013 in Pretoria at the Pretoria Hospital School specialised in teenage pregnancy. The Pretoria Hospital School, a Public School opened in 1950 and originally dedicated to sick children, is the only school of its kind in South Africa. Photo: ANP/AFP Stephane De Sakutin

When he took office in 2015, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli was hailed as a president unafraid to roll-up his sleeves alongside citizens. His nickname, “The Bulldozer,” was meant as a compliment for his relentless work ethic.

However, this has since changed when at a three-day tour of the Coast region the president during his  address of residents of Bagamoyo said that as long as he is the president, girls would not be allowed back to school if they became pregnant and gave birth. “There are many things that the girls can do after delivery; they can join VETA (Vocational Education Training Authority centers) and learn sewing and farming,” he said. He argued that if these girls are permitted to resume studies, they would encourage other schoolgirls to engage in sex. “If we were to allow the girls back to school, one day we would find all girls in Standard One going home to nurse their babies.”

Of the men responsible for the pregnancies, Magufuli said they should be imprisoned for 30 years and put the energy used to impregnate the girl into farming while in prison. He conclusively added “After getting pregnant, you are done!” to a round of applause.


Ultimately, Magufuli’s stand only serves to provide a fertile ground for breeding of all sorts of retrogressive practices in a world struggling to empower the girl child.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli joins a clean-up event outside the State House in Dar es Salaam on December 9, 2015. Photo: ANP/AFP Daniel Hayduk

The likely consequences of his ban could mean:

  • Expectant teenagers may opt for crude abortion methods if only to remain in school.
  • Teen moms may also be subjected to stigma, which could damage their self-esteem and potential.
  • Parents may resort to drastic measures given the girls will not resume school
  • Injurious implications not only to the lives of women but also to the country’s economy to which women substantially contribute

Contrary Reforms

More than 40 percent of Tanzania’s adolescents are left out of quality lower-secondary education despite the government’s positive decision to make lower-secondary education free.

The 98-page report, “‘I Had a Dream to Finish School’: Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania,” examines obstacles, including some rooted in outmoded government policies, that prevent more than 1.5 million adolescents from attending secondary school and cause many students to drop out because of poor quality education.

A handout photo shows supporters of newly elected President of Tanzania John Pombe Magufuli (unseen) attending his inauguration ceremony at the Uhuru Stadium, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 05 November 2015. Photo: AN/EPA Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

“Tanzania’s abolition of secondary school fees and contributions has been a huge step toward improving access to secondary education,” said Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “But the government should do more to address the crowded classrooms, discrimination, and abuse that undermine many adolescents’ education.”

Education has been a national priority for successive Tanzanian governments since independence in 1961, with 22 percent of the 2016-2017 budget allocated for education. However, Tanzania, a low-income country, also has one of the world’s youngest populations, with 43 percent under age of 15.

Since 2005, the government has taken important steps to increase access to secondary education, including committing to building secondary schools in every administrative ward. However, Human Rights Watch found that in some remote and rural areas of the country, students have to travel up to 25 kilometers to school, and many do not have a secondary school in their ward. Some adolescents are unable to attend school because of other school-related costs, including transportation, uniforms, books, or hostel accommodation.

Many children are barred because they fail the compulsory primary school leaving exam. Because students are not allowed to retake the exam, failing it once typically ends their school years. Since 2012, exam results have affected approximately 1.6 million children’s access to secondary education. Most have not been allowed to retake Standard 7, the final year of primary school. Once out of school, many adolescents lack realistic options to complete basic education or pursue vocational training.

File picture of a 14-year-old girl holding her baby at her sister’s home in a village in Kanduku, in Malawi’s Mwanza district. Photo: Human Rights Watch

Quality secondary education also remains inaccessible for most adolescents with disabilities. Despite the government’s comprehensive inclusive education plan, schools are often insufficiently equipped or resourced to accommodate children with various types of disabilities. Most teachers lack inclusive education training. The government should ensure that students with disabilities have adequate support to enable them to learn on an equal basis with students without disabilities.

Widespread corporal punishment that often takes brutal and humiliating forms in Tanzanian schools also affects school attendance, Human Rights Watch found. Corporal punishment is still lawful in Tanzania, in violation of its international obligations, and happens at alarmingly high rates, according to the African Child Policy Forum. In schools Human Rights Watch visited, teachers routinely used corporal punishment, including beatings with their hands, bamboo or wooden sticks, or other objects.

The government should prohibit corporal punishment in schools, and create confidential reporting systems so that students feel comfortable reporting abuse.

“The government has repeatedly committed to ensuring secondary education for all,” Martínez , children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch said. “Now the government needs to open the way for secondary education by ending discriminatory and abusive policies and removing the remaining barriers between many students and a quality education.” 

Policies that specifically limit the girl child’s education

According to World Bank data, less than one-third of girls who enter lower secondary school graduate. Schools routinely expel female students who are pregnant on grounds of “offenses against morality.” Government regulations also force girls who are forced to marry before they reach 18 to drop out. An estimated 8,000 girls drop out of school every year due to pregnancy. 

Human Rights Watch found that school officials conduct regular compulsory pregnancy tests, an abusive and discriminatory practice. In most cases, girls are not allowed to re-enroll after their children are born, or are unable to because of a lack of community support or access to early childhood services.

File photo: Plan International’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ campaign in Mozambique. Photo: HerZimbabwe

The government should ban pregnancy testing in schools, end the expulsion of girls who are married or pregnant, and promptly publish a circular instructing schools to allow young mothers to continue secondary education, Human Rights Watch said.

Female students are also exposed to widespread sexual harassment or, in some schools, by male teachers to persuade or coerce them into sexual relationships. Officials rarely report sexual abuse to police, and many schools lack a confidential reporting mechanism. In 2011, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that roughly one in 10 girls experienced childhood sexual violence by a teacher.

Governments’ failure to adjust

Tanzania already had a historically high rate of dropouts for girls, mainly due to pregnancy and early marriage. That has a myriad of resulting development challenges, such as a lack of proper healthcare for mother and child, illiteracy and poverty.

In the past, the state and NGOs have worked together to educate teen girls about birth control and their rights, but there’s no telling what effect Magufuli’s comments may have on these efforts.

He has accused civil society organizations, which have been urging the government to permit teen mothers to re-enter the education system, of being used by foreign agents. Pressure for the government to allow teen mothers to be readmitted in schools has been mounting, with rights groups, a parliamentary committee as well as opposition MPs calling for the formulation of legal framework that would allow schoolgirls to resume studies after giving birth.

Despite all this President Magufuli said the foreign human rights groups should open schools for the teen mothers instead of trying to force the government’s hand. Thereby showing little to no regard for the girl child’s well being or any consideration for the outcry and recommendations of secondary school students, out-of-school adolescents, parents, education experts, local activists, development partners, and national and local government officials in all regions of Tanzania.

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