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World Bank delays vote on $500 million loan for Tanzania after activist pressure over ban on pregnant schoolgirls

by CNN Jan 28th · 2 min read

CNN — The World Bank has postponed its decision on Tanzania a $500 million loan, following pressure from activists who oppose the country's policy of banning pregnant girls and young mothers from attending state school.

The bank's executive board was meant to meet on Tuesday to consider the loan, but the meeting was postponed after one member requested a delay on Monday, a source at the bank told CNN.

Sources did not say why the meeting was postponed. However, the request to delay came in after the bank held a last-minute emergency meeting with Tanzanian activists and international human rights organizations earlier on Monday.

Last week, Tanzanian civil society groups sent a letter, seen by CNN, to the executive board urging them to stop the loan until the country passes a law that guarantees the rights of pregnant girls to attend regular secondary schools and ends mandatory pregnancy tests.

CNN visited three Tanzanian schools in 2018 where girls from grades eight and up were given compulsory pregnancy tests.

Bella Bird, the World Bank's Country Director for Tanzania, Burundi, Malawi and Somalia, attended the meeting on Monday, briefing the activists on why her team thought the loan should go ahead. Bird is expected to step down on Friday, according to a source at the bank.

Tanzania has run into trouble with the bank over its policies targeting pregnant girls before. A $300 million educational loan to Tanzania was withdrawn in 2018 over concerns about expelling pregnant girls and the introduction of a law that made it a crime to question official statistics.

The Tanzanian government amended the statistics law last year, but stopped short of any formal changes to the way it treats pregnant girls.

A World Bank spokesman for Tanzania said that since 2018 the bank has worked with the Tanzanian government to find a solution. He said the purpose of the reworked loan program was to "enhance the quality and provision of education."

"The program has been redesigned ... to ensure girls and boys who drop out, including pregnant girls, have alternate education options for themselves."

Asked why the bank didn't require a guarantee that girls who get pregnant would be allowed to continue in state school if they wish to, the spokesman repeated the current solution was a result of an agreement between the World Bank and Magufuli.

The Tanzanian government declined to comment to CNN.

According to a World Bank document outlining the loan, about 5,500 girls were not able to continue their secondary education due to adolescent pregnancy and young motherhood in 2017.

Around a quarter of Tanzanian girls aged between 15 and 19 are mothers or pregnant. According to the United Nations Population Fund, the percentage of teenage girls who have given birth or who were pregnant increased to 27% in 2016 from 23% in 2010.

Child marriage, as young as 15, which has been barred since 2016, remains an issue -- 36% of women aged 25-49 have been married before they turned 18, according to official data from 2016, the latest available.

last updated: 2020-01-28@08:01