Women groups have expressed outrage after Tanzanian President John Magufuli's statement that girls impregnated while still in school should not be allowed to resume their studies.
Magufuli, who addressed a public rally in Chalinze town, said young mothers would be distracted if they were allowed back in school:
"After calculating some mathematics, she'd be asking the teacher in the classroom: 'Let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby,'" he said on Thursday.
But women groups, led by African Woman's Development Network, want the President to apologise and retract his statements immediately.
"That Magufuli, whom we thought pegged his campaign on a transformational streak, can wake up one day and re-victimise teenage girls who fall pregnant while in school is incredulous and utterly disgusting," said executive director Dinah Musindarwezo.
She noted the remarks were in "bad shape" especially after "all the work done to emancipate Africa's girl-child from the shackles of discrimination and violation".
Kavinya Makau, an African feminist lawyer and women's rights defender, said it is a shame that Tanzania can take such a retrogressive path.
"We are shocked and disgusted. It is a betrayal of the highest order. Magufuli now stands blacklisted in our course," she said.
She said Tanzania has obligations to the Maputo Protocol that ensures women are protectedn against discrimination, having ratified it in March 2007.
Faiza Mohammed, director of Equality Now, said it is unfortunate that instead of addressing sexual violence in schools, Magufuli is re-victimising young girls by denying them their right to education.
"This is not what you expect of a public leader, let along the president of the republic," she said.
MAGUFULI RE-AFFIRMS BAN
But Magufuli on Friday rejected activists' calls for the government to allow pregnant students to attend state schools, saying it was immoral for young girls to be sexually active.
"In my administration, as long as I am president ... no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school. We cannot allow this immoral behaviour to permeate our primary and secondary schools ... never," he said.
The leader ordered police to arrest and prosecute men who get students pregnant, saying convicted offenders could get up to 30 years in jail under the country's sexual offences legislation.
"Non-governmental organisations that have been campaigning for pregnant girls to be allowed to continue with their studies at government schools should open private schools and enrol those teenage mothers," he said.
Tanzania's ban on pregnant girls attending state primary and secondary schools dates back to 1961, when the country secured its independence from Britain, though it does not extend to private schools.
More than 55,000 Tanzanian schoolgirls have been expelled from school over the last decade for being pregnant, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) said in a report in 2013.
Some wealthier families are able to send their daughters to private schools but the majority end up looking for casual work.
According to the UNDP, 5.1 million children aged 7 to 17 years are out of school, including nearly 1.5 million of lower secondary school age.
Only three out of five Tanzanian adolescents, or 52 per cent of the eligible school population, are enrolled in lower-secondary education and fewer complete secondary education.
In 2009, almost 9,800 students “dropped out” of primary and secondary school due to pregnancy.
A year later, more than 8,000 female students — 1,760 in primary school and 6,300 in secondary school — “dropped out” of school due to pregnancy.
In 2011, that number was 5,767, with the vast majority of pregnancy-related “dropouts” recorded in secondary school.
In Form 1, the first year of secondary school, there are approximately 6,000 more adolescent boys than adolescent girls enrolled in school.489 The data shows that each year, consistently fewer adolescent girls than adolescent boys transition to the next grade.
By the time students have reached Form 4, the final year of secondary school for most students, the gap has widened to over 44,000 more males. Some 84.9 per cent males and 70 per cent females who start Form 1 complete Form 4