WEST African singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo recently visited Tanzania to highlight issues related to girls’ education, particularly early pregnancies, which have forced many girls to drop out of school.
“I feel very sad when I see these young girls, because being a mother at that age isn’t easy – even at 30 it’s not easy,” Kidjo said as she sat in front of a group of child mothers at the Temeke Vocational Centre in Dar es Salaam.
In Tanzania, one in four girls under the age of 18 has already had their first child. Most of these girls were still in school when they first became pregnant.
Until recently, pregnant schoolgirls in Tanzania were automatically expelled and were not encouraged to return after giving birth.
Following years of lobbying from UNICEF and its partners, the Education and Training Policy was revised earlier this year to allow re-admission for girls after they have given birth.
Even before the review of the policy, a few girls were finding their own way back into education through initiatives like the Temeke Vocational Centre.
One such girl is Catherine, 16, who was in her third year of secondary school when she was forced to drop out due to pregnancy.
“I wanted to come to the vocational centre to develop myself, but it’s very hard for me, because I have no one at home to look after my daughter Melissa,” she said.
"I will try to follow Ms Kidjo’s advice and stay in school and have no more children until I complete my education.”
Kidjo also visited a nearby community where she talked about the importance of education with fathers, mothers, community leaders and some child mothers who have not been able to return to school despite the revised policy.
Kidjo told them that every child has a right to go to school to make a better future for themselves, but that it takes a collaborative effort.
“It is not only the responsibility of the government or UNICEF – we can’t do it alone. Parents, teachers and the community have to work together to ensure all boys and girls go to school and stay in school,” she said.
She further emphasized that parents need to teach their daughters how to protect themselves and help them to understand the consequences of early pregnancy.
“Change is in our hands – we (women) can do it if we get focused,” Kidjo told the community. “I see progress, but there is still a lot of work to be done – but you people recognise the problem, which is the first step to a solution.”
UNICEF Representative in Tanzania Heimo Laakkonen said that Kidjo’s visit was very timely.
“The message she gave to the child mothers during her visit will hopefully spread across the country to all communities,” he said.
“We hope it will also encourage all child mothers to return to school to learn valuable skills they can use to make a better future for themselves and their children.”