NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Thousands of pregnant girls will go to school in Tanzania under a $ 500 million World Bank loan that had been delayed for years due to the ban imposed by the country to future students.

Tanzanian Education Minister Joyce Ndalichako said the loan was aimed at improving access and quality of secondary education for all Tanzanian students – without bias.

“The goal is to reach over 6.5 million high school students across the country, without discrimination and will include girls who drop out of school for various reasons, including pregnancy,” the statement said.

“The government is committed to ensuring that they continue their education as prescribed in the project. “

Government officials were not immediately available to confirm whether the policy would extend to students who were not part of the World Bank initiative, but women’s rights groups said they were cautiously optimistic.

Tanzania has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world. About 27% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are pregnant, according to the United Nations, amid widespread sexual violence and poverty, which forces girls to trade sex for school fees, food and money. shelter.

About 5,500 pregnant girls drop out of school each year in Tanzania, the World Bank said on its website. The project will allow them to attend alternative education centers to take their exams and later return to public schools, he said.

President John Magufuli drew criticism from activists and donors in 2017 when he expressed support for the ban on pregnant girls and teenage mothers in public schools, which dates back to 1961, calling their behavior “immoral. “.

The World Bank froze $ 1.7 billion in loans to Tanzania in 2018 after a ban on pregnant students and a law banning the questioning of official statistics. He started releasing funds for the country again last September.

Women’s rights groups called on authorities to formally revoke the ban, which barred thousands of girls from accessing lifelong education, and ensure that all schools provide access to pregnant adolescents and young people. mothers.

“This is the first time that the Tanzanian government has publicly announced in an official state document that it will include pregnant girls in secondary education,” said Judy Gitau, regional coordinator of Equality Now Africa.

“We are cautiously optimistic and will continue to hold the Tanzanian government to account to put in place a clear reintegration policy for pregnant school girls who are already out of school and those to come. “

Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit