Sierra Leone: CSOs call for lift of ban on pregnant girls attending school
APA-Freetown (Sierra Leone) - A coalition of Civil Society Organisatios has launched renewed appeal for the Sierra Leone government to cease a discriminatory policy that bars pregnant teenage girls and teenage mothers from attending school.
The CSOs say the policy has led to many drop-outs among the girls since 2014.
Already Sierra Leone has a low rate of girls enrolment in schools, as against their male counterparts, and the government and its partners have been struggling to address that.
According to the government, this controversial policy has been in existence for decades and meant to discourage the phenomenon of teenage pregnancy which has also fueled another epidemic in the country – maternal mortality. Teenage pregnancy accounts for 40 percent of maternal deaths, according to the ministry of Health. But the policy became prominent last year after the country registered the highest rate of teenage pregnancy as one of the indirect consequence of the Ebola epidemic.
Girls were forced to have sex in return for money, water and school fees, according to a report by the charity Save the Children International in 2015, a year after the epidemic break out. The report indicates that over 20, 000 teegnage girls were pregnant and many of them had t heir education disrupted when the Education Ministry ordered schools to shut their doors on them.
Following public outcry headed by NGOs and CSOs, the government, with support from aid agencies, instituted temporary classes for the affected teenager mothers and pregnant girls outside the formal education system. But critics say that’s hardly the answer the problem.
Supporters of the policy say allowing pregnant girls in school will serve as negative influence on their peers. But critics say this argument in fact encourages stigma which increases the drop out rate among girls affected.
“We call on the government of Sierra Leone to work towards reviewing all discriminatory practices against pregnant girls’ right to education and recognise the importance of equity and quality education for all children,” Anna Yambasu, Executive Director for Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society, said in a statement Sunday on behalf of a coalition of CSOs that also include Defense for Children International and Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace.
“Education is a fundamental human rights and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. This calls for immediate action by the government of Sierra Leone,” she added.