World Bank Delays Education Loan to Tanzania Because of Pregnancy Policy

By Toby McIntosh

The World Bank Board has delayed consideration of a major education loan to Tanzania because of concerns about the government’s policy of expelling pregnant girls from school, has learned.

The unusual action was confirmed by three sources familiar with the action.

The delay or “withdrawal” of the education loan, worth about $300 million, came at the urging of multiple governments, including the United States, the sources said.

The action occurred because of Tanzanian policy of expelling pregnant girls from school and not letting them continue their education. Pressure on the issue came from a number of nongovernmental organizations, sources said.

The unusual action could have wider implications  because for several African countries have similar polices.

Concerning Tanzania, the World Bank document on the loan says that “pregnancy accounts for about 10 percent of female drop-out since pregnant girls are legally prevented from continuing in school.”

After going into detail on this and other factors affecting the progress of girls and boys through the education system, the Bank document states, “Among the 145 countries that reported data in 2012, Tanzania had the twelfth worst gender parity index for enrolment at upper secondary and compared unfavorably with low-income country and SubSaharan Africa averages.”

Late Oct. 29 , a Bank spokesman issued the following statement:

The World Bank supports policies that encourage the girl child’s education and make it possible for them to stay in school until they reach their full potential. The economic and social returns to girls finishing their education are very high in every society for the current and future generations. Working with other partners, the World Bank will continue to advocate for girls’ access to education through our dialogue with the Tanzanian government, and work towards addressing the high rates of adolescent pregnancy – an issue that not only interrupts education, but also significantly contributes to maternal mortality.

The withdrawal of the loan doesn’t mean it couldn’t be revived through negotiations, Bank watchers said.

President Intensified Expulsion Policy 

The Economist reported in June, “Official statistics record that between 2003 and 2011, more than 55,000 girls dropped out because of pregnancy.” The magazine said a quarter of Tanzanian girls aged 15-19 are pregnant or have given birth, stating, “The government’s response is to kick them out of school for good.”

Expanding on an existing policy of expelling pregnant girls, President John Magufuli (elected in 2015) announced in June of 2017, that pregnant students would not be allowed to return to school after giving birth. “In my administration as the President no pregnant girl will go back to school… she has chosen that of kind life, let her take care of the child,” he said at a public rally, according to a media report.

In October 2018, the president encouraged women to stop taking birth control pills because the country needs more people, according to local media reports. “Women can now give up contraceptive methods,” Magufuli said.

Explaining the background of the pregnancy policy, The Economist wrote:

None of this is explicitly required by law. Vague rules say a student may be expelled for an “offence against morality”. In recent years the tone had been changing. Last year the education ministry presented draft guidelines for pregnant girls to re-enter school. The ruling-party manifesto said that those in primary school should continue their studies.

But then John Magufuli, the president, made his views known. “After getting pregnant, you are done,” he thundered last year. Halima Mdee, a lawmaker who criticised Mr Magufuli’s stance, was arrested and charged with insulting the president.

Wider Implications, Context

The Bank’s stance could have implications for other African countries. Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea also expel pregnant girls, The Economist said, citing a Human Rights Watch report.

Pressure on governments over domestic policies is usually handled discretely by Bank officials, but recently the Bank appears to be willing ratchet up pressure on Tanzania.

The Bank issued a statement to EYE on Oct. 1 saying it is “deeply concerned” about new restrictions placed on public comments about official statistics.

The restrictions are “out of line with international standards,” the Bank said. The new amendments to the Statistics law criminalize the dissemination of “any statistical information which is intended to invalidate, distort or discredit official statistics.” (See EYE article.)

The Bank said it has “shared” its concerns with the Tanzanian government and is “in discussions with the Government on whether further support to building sustainable statistical systems is appropriate at this time.” Still held up is a $50 million package of support for the government statistical operations, although Bank officials have declined to make further comments on any ongoing talks. (See EYE update.)

The International Monetary Fund, like the World Bank, is questioning the new provision in the statistics law, has reported. (See EYE article.)

Human Rights Concerns

On Feb. 22, 2018, five United Nations Special Rapporteurs on human rights issued a statement objecting to the expulsion policy. After reviewing the evidence on the policy, they wrote:

Without prejudging the accuracy of these allegations, we wish to reiterate our serious concern regarding any exclusion or expulsion of pregnant girls and young women from attending school or taking exams, which constitutes discrimination and is based on stigmatising attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes, as well as the discriminatory practices implemented by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and the schools, as they perpetuate gender inequality and violate young women and girls’ rights to education, economic opportunities, enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including reproductive health and reproductive self-determination, as well as the rights to privacy, and to physical and psychological integrity, autonomy and dignity, and the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The practice of non-consensual and compulsory “testing” amounts to humiliating and degrading treatment.

They note that a similar letter sent six months earlier by three special rapporteurs received no government response.

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