May 26, 2024
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

By Iminza Keboge
Published June 28, 2022

Three human rights organizations say a case on Tanzania’s ban against students who are pregnant or are mothers at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights could impact the rights of girls across Africa.

In a statement to the media issued in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi,on June 27, Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa, Women’s Link Worldwide, and Human Rights Watch term the case as being a landmark.

The World Bank estimates that every year approximately 6,500 girls drop out of school in Tanzania – meaning that they leave school or are expelled and do not return to the formal system of instruction – because they are pregnant.

On November 24, a year after the case was filed, the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, Science and Technology reversed its policy and published a circular saying that pregnant girls and girls who are mothers are allowed to return to public schools to resume their studies. Tanzania had been among the few countries in Africa that explicitly banned girls who became pregnant or are mothers from its schools.

Equality Now, a women’s rights organization, and Tike Mwambipile, executive director of Tanzania Women Lawyers’ Association, had in November 2020 filed a joint case against the government of Tanzania at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a regional court based in Arusha, Tanzania, They are seeking measures to overturn Tanzania’s ban on students who are pregnant, married, or are mothers from continuing their schooling.

“This case represents an important milestone as one of the first cases at the African Court on the rights of women and girls,” says Sibongile Ndashe, executive director at Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa. “The loss of education, and low educational attainment faced by girls in Africa has long-term personal and wider societal cumulative impact and can significantly affect girls’ life trajectories.”

“It is vital that girls and women everywhere experience no structural hindrance as they pursue their goals,” says Achieng Orero, senior attorney at Women’s Link Worldwide, “As co-amicus, we offer a transnational perspective that emphasizes the importance of sexual and reproductive rights and girls’ and women’s ability to pursue their life projects, including obtaining the highest possible level of education.”

“The African Court has a unique opportunity to consider the potential for transformative restorative measures that could help repair the permanent loss of education, stigma, and discrimination faced by girls arbitrarily excluded from schools,” says Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

This is the second time a regional African court has heard a landmark case on bans against students who are pregnant or are mothers. In December 2019, in a case brought by a coalition of Sierra Leonean and international groups, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that a ban in Sierra Leone that excluded pregnant students and adolescent mothers from public schools, that had been in place for 10-years, was discriminatory and ordered the government to revoke it. The court also found that alternative schools for pregnant students, a largely donor-funded government program, was discriminatory.

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