* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Tanzanian schoolgirls frequently undergo forced pregnancy tests, then face expulsion
Maria’s story is taken from a report by the Center for Reproductive Rights about the forced testing of Tanzanian schoolgirls for pregnancy and their subsequent expulsion.
Maria found a job, cleaning and cooking for a family in Iringa town, as she prepared to start secondary school. She is an orphan and lived with her stepmother, who was too poor to support her education.
Soon after starting work, Maria’s employers asked her to stay and care for their house while they went away for a few days. While alone in their house, Maria was raped by the family’s other employee, a caretaker. She did not know the man who raped her – not even his name.
He threatened to kill her if she told anyone what had happened.
When her employers returned, Maria told them – without any explanation – that she could no longer work there.
“I was scared that the (caretaker) would come back and kill me,” she said.
About three months into the school year, the school undertook its first round of unannounced, mandatory pregnancy testing. All of the female students in Maria’s class were told to assemble.
One by one, they were called into a classroom, where the school nurse and a female teacher waited for them.
Each girl was told to lie down on the desk, open the buttons on her shirt, and loosen her skirt waist.
“If you said no, they would force you to do it,” Maria said.
The school nurse then pinched and squeezed Maria’s stomach and breasts.
After everyone had been through this process, the matron called Maria back to the classroom. The matron, teacher and headmaster were all present. They informed her that she was pregnant.
Maria was shocked. She had had no idea that she was pregnant. They asked her if she had ever had sex. Maria told them about the rape.
The headmaster told Maria that she was expelled from school. Her older sister was phoned and asked to collect her.
The headmaster told Maria’s sister that Maria was pregnant, and asked her to question Maria, in their presence, about how she became pregnant. They appeared not to believe Maria’s story.
The headmaster then told the other students during assembly that Maria had been expelled for being pregnant.
“Once they find someone is pregnant, the teacher should listen to her. (Female students) get pregnant because they face a difficult situation, and if they could talk to the girls first and give them a chance to go back to school, that would be better,” Maria said.
Maria gave birth to a daughter and asked to return to school. They refused.
By chance, a charity heard her story and offered to sponsor her education at a private school. She is now 16.
Her current school, like her former school, carries out mandatory manual pregnancy testing about three times a year. Neither school offers sex education to its students.
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