By Zvamaida Murwira/ Thandeka Moyo
Parliament was left divided on Wednesday over a clause in the Education Amendment Bill which bans the expulsion of girls who fall pregnant while in school.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavima defended the clause while backbenchers argued that it was not sustainable as it had the effect of turning schools into “maternity homes” and undermined the country’s moral fabric.
This came during the Second Reading stage of Education Amendment Bill which also seeks to ban corporal punishment in schools.
Pelandaba-Mpopoma legislator, Mr Charles Moyo (MDC Alliance) said allowing pregnant girls at school would spoil other children who would feel that authorities were condoning bad behaviour.
“I have a problem with the second part, that is on the basis of pregnancy. Why Madam Speaker? Our schools must not be turned into maternity homes. There is no need for those who would have failed on their choice to look for a boyfriend to proceed with schoolwork.
“A rotten apple spoils the barrel. I want to say, it will not be good for other pupils as well. So, when a person is impregnated, she ceases to be a pupil or a student, she becomes a mother,” said Mr Moyo.
“Mind you Madam Speaker, there are complications associated with a person on her first pregnancy. The issues like BP, stress, untimely or early labour pains. Surely, we must separate those who want to proceed with their schoolwork and those who have chosen to be mothers.
“It must be a clear amendment to say, those who would have chosen to have boyfriends, I will reiterate, must be separated from those who want to proceed with their schoolwork because of the peer pressure.
“After all, if you happen to have that pregnancy maybe at Form 1, if you are not punished and proceeded with schoolwork, it means when you are now at Form 3 or Form 4 level, you again repeat the same mistake.
“Surely, we must separate those who want to do their schoolwork properly without any disturbances, without being close to the bad behaviour that will be exhibited by those who would have been impregnated by other people.”
Warren Park legislator, Mr Shakespeare Hamauswa (MDC Alliance) said there must be a comprehensive re-entry policy for those girls who fall pregnant at school.
“I think this would be important to help a number of girl children within our society as well as boys who are also being affected. Currently, there is no clear re-entry policy in Zimbabwe,” said Mr Hamauswa.
Bikita West MP, Cde Elias Musakwa (Zanu-PF) said allowing girls to continue with their studies undermined moral fabrics of the country and compromised the achievements registered in attaining high literacy rate.
He also said it was not prudent to ban corporal punishment.
“I recommend that this part needs to be rephrased into, when a child becomes pregnant at school, that child should be sent home to give birth and nurture the child, after which she can be readmitted to our education system. If we pass such a Bill without rephrasing, I am visualising a school where we have maybe 150 girls and 50 are pregnant,” said Cde Nyathi.
He said most waiting mothers’ shelters at village health institutions were failing to cope with the number of pregnant women and girls. “I visited some maternity homes where there are doctors and nurses who specialised in looking after pregnant women; they are failing to cope. Now we want to transfer this duty to a school head and the teachers to look after the pregnant children at school” he said.
Cd Nyathi said the clause on pregnant pupils needs to be looked into deeply so that it does not lead to moral decadence.
“While we are trying to protect the education imbalance between the boy child and the girl child, we should also be serious when we are talking about early child marriages. On the other hand, it is like we are encouraging early child marriages by saying let us let our children get pregnant at school.”
Cabinet approved the Education Amendment Bill in February and it was gazetted in the same month.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the right to a basic State-funded education, including adult basic education, the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to language and culture.
In response, Minister Mavima said retaining corporal punishment violated the Constitution which resented subjecting persons to degrading treatment.
“The fundamental basis of the inclusion of this issue is premised on Section 75 of the Constitution which speaks against discrimination. Current practice in our education system has it that if two form four learners have an affair and end up impregnating each other — the male student can continue with his education but the female student cannot. Section 75 of our Constitution bans discrimination on the basis of gender or sex and it is the basis upon which this item was included in our Bill. It is also on the basis of international practice and trends. We seem to be lonely as far as that is concerned,” said Minister Mavima.
He said the trend internationally is to make sure that the girl child is not discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy. “I concede that the specific re-entry arrangements have to be done but those can be done as a Statutory Instrument, we cannot remove this provision within our amendment Bill,” said Minister Mavima.
On corporal punishment, Minister Mavima said it violated Section 53 of the Constitution.
“Therefore according to our home grown Constitution, Section 53 of 2013 and not the Lancaster House Constitution, it indicates that we cannot have inhuman treatment of anyone in this country. It is upon the basis of this provision of our Constitution that we have removed corporal punishment within our schools. Indeed, the Ministry is seized with the development of alternative means of discipline away from corporal punishment,” he said. The Chronicle