Sierra Leone’s Education Minister Minkailu Bah made a devastating announcement that impacts the education of girls in the country. Bah has stated that girls who are visibly pregnant will not be allowed to go to school. Apparently the ‘unspoken’ rule was always in play, but now it’s official and people aren’t too pleased.
“Many of these girls have already been very disadvantaged over the last eight months, having been impacted by the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. And there has been a reported increase in sexual violence as well as a reported increase in pressure on girls to engage in transactional sex due to the very harsh economic impacts of Ebola,” says Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.
“This is not a favour [to pregnant girls], this is a fundamental human right to education. And these girls have a right not to be discriminated against, and also have a right not to be stigmatised just because they’re girls,” she adds.
As many students have returned to school because of the Ebola outbreak, education officials are standing in support of the new ruling.
“In our own culture, in the secondary school, they don’t allow girls who are visibly pregnant to go and take exams. We have a belief that it will encourage other girls to do the same thing,” says Sylvester Meheux, the chairman of the Conference of Principals. “Others will copy that example, and we’ll have a lot of them [pregnant girls] in our school system,” he adds.
“Education is a discipline. In the absence of discipline, learning doesn’t take place. You should also realise that when someone is pregnant, you have some distractions, things that will not make you compose yourself, to take your education seriously,” he says.
The country is now trying to figure out how to provide an education for pregnant girls, but some feel they’re not doing enough work.
Roeland Monasch, UNICEF’s representative in Sierra Leone, has issues with how the country is handling pregnant students.
“Nearly half of all girls are pregnant or a mother while they’re a child themselves, so before they reach the age of 18,” Monash stated.
“They don’t have the structures to do that, they don’t have the infrastructure to do that, it’s a violation of human rights. It’s very sad. It’s very painful because we’re seeing a visible number of pregnant girls in the country today. And we know why this is,” he says.
Photo credit: William Vest-Lillesoe/IBIS