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Mozambique has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world, and President Filipe Nyusi told Chatham House (the Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London on 17 April that the best way to reduce this is to not allow pregnant schoolgirls to attend normal day schools, but to go to night classes instead. But it is a view which is challenged in two recent academic papers.
“There is a resolution of the UN that pregnant girls should not be excluded from school, and we have not yet ratified it,” Nyusi said. “We listen to the people, and not only international declarations. In Mozambique there are no girls who cannot attend school. Pregnant girls move on to night school. Why have we not moved urgently to sign this declaration? Because there are girls, mothers, and grandparents who say that having pregnant girls in school promotes early pregnancy and we in Mozambique have the problem that children of 15-16 years old are pregnant …. We have to balance. [Should we] move forward on this and encourage children 15 years old to become pregnant just because of an international resolution?”
In a 2015 survey by the health ministry, 46 per cent of Mozambican girls, 15 to 19 years old, were either pregnant or already mothers. The Minister of Education in 2003 issued an instruction 39/GM/2003 which said that pregnant girls could not attend day school and had to attend at night. It also says that school staff who impregnate girls in the same school are dismissed, and that student fathers of the children, if they are in the same school, are also expelled from day school, although it appears that this rarely happens.
The issue is raised in a new article the journal Gender and Education (vol 30, no 4, pp 494-512, 2018) by Fracesca Salvi, who did fieldwork in Maputo. Salvi’s interviews with education officials show that they argue that pregnancy is “behaviourally contagious” and that if pregnant girls are allowed to attend class without punishment, other schoolgirls will consider it to OK to get pregnant, so pregnant girls must be punished to set an example. The 2003 instruction says that “it is essential to adopt measures of prevention and censure” and Nyusi follows that line.
But Salvi stresses that girls are punished by losing their education. Night school is more difficult to get to in Maputo, and in the suburbs many people are afraid to go out at night, so many girls simply drop education.
Salvi also notes the broader issue that schoolgirl pregnancies are seen as unwanted and unplanned, but it is more complicated. She points out that childbearing is seen as “the main source of a woman’s respect” in many areas and also as the transition to adulthood, and thus is likely to often have support from the extended family. Moving pregnant girls from day to night school also reflects this, as most students at night are working adults.
The issue is also raised in an article in The Conversation (21 Jan) by Kate Pinock of Oxford, who argues that “Punishment won’t stop teenage pregnancies … because ‘bad behaviour’ isn’t the cause.” Her research in Tanzania showed pregnancy is an “understandable response to poverty and restricted options.” Girls reported being forced to trade sex with teachers for good grades or having boyfriends who would pay for food and school supplies so they could stay in school. “The important thing was that this happened in secret and therefore did not affect girls’ reputations. But the clandestine nature of the arrangements means that there are no real opportunities for girls to seek information about preventing pregnancy.”
She compared Tanzania and Kenya. Tanzania has a policy similar to Mozambique, while “neighbouring Kenya has taken the opposite approach. Girls are actively encouraged to stay in school for as long as possible and steps are taken to support their re-entry after they give birth. Tanzania’s approach isn’t working. According to government data, the number of pregnancies in girls aged between 15 – 19 continues to rise – increasing from 23% in 2010 to 27% in 2015. This is higher than it was 20 years ago. Neighbouring Kenya has not seen such rises, and teenage pregnancy rates have stayed at around 18% for the last five years.”
(A tape of Nyusi’s full speech and Q&A is on https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/fostering-sustainable-peace-democracy-and-inclusive-development-mozambique and Nyusi’s response to the question is at 1.06 hours.
(The Salvi article is available only through university links or by paying, but available free to Mozambicans – contact email@example.com).
By Joseph HanlonSource: News reports & clippings
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