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Sierra Leone dragged to ECOWAS court over pregnant schoolgirls ban

Sierra Leone dragged to ECOWAS court over pregnant schoolgirls ban

Human Rights

The government of Sierra Leone has been dragged to a regional court over a 2015 ban on pregnant schoolgirls returning to the classroom after delivery.

United States-based Equality Now (EN), Gambia based Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) and others filed the case before the Economic Community for West Africa States (ECOWAS) court in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

The case according to Equality Now, was seeking to lift the ban on pregnant school girls from attending school in Sierra Leone. The ban has been in place since 2015 with the reason that girls were thought to be a bad influence on their peers.

“EN & partners have engaged state & non-state actors to advocate for the lifting of this ban. Unfortunately, efforts have been fruitless & the violation of girls’ rights to education continues unabated, hence the need to litigate on the issue at the regional court,” EN said in a statement.

In April 2015 – just as the country was about starting the post-Ebola era, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology issued a statement banning pregnant girls from mainstream education and from sitting exams.

According to statistics, one in three pregnant persons is a teenager. In response to international pressure related to these controversial exclusion measures, the government has been forced to open special classes for pregnant girls.

According to a report in December 2017, pregnant girls can continue their education, following a very light program, and away from other adolescents. But, young fathers are spared.

The government at the time said the initiative was a success: 5,000 of the 14,000 girls enrolled in these special schools eventually returned to traditional school after pregnancy. But nearly two-thirds of them remain permanently excluded from the education system.

“It is not because these girls are pregnant that their education has to stop. That’s very clear, and we told the Minister of Education: we want these girls to be educated, not discriminated against, but the government does not allow that,” Wongani Taulo, in charge of education for UNICEF noted.

Sex education does not exist in Sierra Leone. And even temporary solutions are under threat: the government says it does not have enough money to continue funding these courses. At the risk of condemning thousands of teenagers to drop out of school completely.