During President Magufuli’s Independence Day speech, he pardoned the two men, who were convicted of the rape of 10 primary school children aged between six and eight, along with thousands of other prisoners.
What has angered activists is the fact that these two calls – both the release of the accused child rapists, and the arrest of pregnant schoolgirls – have happened at the same time.
“Tanzania’s leaders are promoting a culture of human rights violations in which young victims of sexual violence are being punished while perpetrators are going free,” Fazia Mohamed, Director of Equality Now’s Africa office, told local media.
“It is unacceptable that convicted child molesters walk free by order of a president who simultaneously denies victims of assault access to education if they become pregnant,” she added.
Other rights activists also commented on the move.
Petrider Paul of Youth for Change in Tanzania, said the pardons sent a “terrible” message for perpetrators of sexual violence and devalued their victims – The Guardian reported.
“It is unfair to the victims of these crimes and it sends a bad message to perpetrators that they can get away with it,” said Paul.
Kate McAlpine, the director of Community for Children’s Rights in Tanzania, told the BBC she was “horrified but unsurprised” by Magufuli’s decision for the call to arrest pregnant schoolgirls.
“This story is indicative of a failure at the top level of political will to end violence against children,” she said. “Pregnant schoolgirls are pregnant because they are victims of violence. He has a blind spot when it comes to recognising children as victims. There seems to be a punitive attitude towards young children.”
Earlier this year, CGTN Africa reported on Magufuli’s decision to ban pregnant schoolgirls from attending school – a move that brought about a fierce reaction from rights activists.
A change.org petition calling for schoolgirls who are pregnant in Tanzania to be allowed to complete their education has attracted 66,000 signatures.
President Magufuli is considered a popular figure in Tanzania. Nicknamed “the bulldozer” for his road-building programme as former works minister, he came to power as President in November 2015. However, recently the President has come under fire from international rights organisations for using “repressive legislation” to silence the media, civil society and opposition groups.