Tanzania's leaders have been accused of "promoting a culture of human rights violations" after two high-profile child rapists were released and an appeal was made to arrest pregnant schoolgirls.
The two men, who were convicted of raping 10 primary school children between the ages of six and eight, were pardoned by Tanzania's President John Magufili during his independence day speech Saturday (9 December).
The president also pardoned thousands of other prisoners, The Guardian reported.
Singer Nguzu Viking, known as Babu Seya, and his son, Johnson Ngazu, known as Papii Kocha served 13 years in prison. They were convicted in 2003 of raping the schoolchildren at Mashujaa primary school in the Kinondoni district of Dar es Salaam.
Their release comes as a government official called for pregnant schoolgirls to be taken into police custody. John Mongella, the regional commissioner of Mwanza, said on Monday (11 December) that this would force them to testify against those who impregnated them.
Earlier this year, the president called to ban pregnant girls from attending school.
"While President Mungafuli is pardoning convicted child rapists, regional commissioner John Mongella is calling on pregnant school girls to be arrested and taken to court," said Fazia Mohamed, Equality Now's Africa office director.
"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."
She also took issue with Mungafuli's call to ban pregnant girls from school. "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 said.
Mohamed asked where the justice was in victims of sexual assault having to witness the president freeing the men who had violated them.
Youth for Change's Petrider Paul said the president's pardons sent a "terrible" message to perpetrators and victims of sexual violence. "It is unfair to the victims of these crimes and it sends a bad message to perpetrators that they can get away with it."
The release of the men prompted backlash on social media. Some activists claim the pardon marks yet another setback for women and girls' rights in Tanzania.
According to Reuters, the country has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world. There is widespread sexual violence in Tanzania, with many girls exchanging sex to pay for school fees, food and shelter.