…NGOs call to end discriminatory policy against pregnant girls
October 6, 2017 By Joseph S. Margai
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working in Sierra Leone to advance the human rights of children, in collaboration with Equality Now, have stated in a joint press release that pregnancy is not a contagious disease, thus calling on the Government of Sierra Leone to end stigma and discriminatory policy against pregnant girls.
The NGOs – Defence for Children International Sierra Leone (DCI-SL), Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (WAVES), Graceland Sierra Leone (GSL) and Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace (WPJP) – made the call yesterday (5 October) at the New Brookfields Hotel in Freetown at the end of a three-day training organised by Equality Now.
“We are calling on the Government of Sierra Leone to review all discriminatory practices against pregnant girls’ right to education, and recognise the importance of equity and quality education for all children,” said Hannah Yambasu, National Coordinator of WAVES, as she read the press statement.
She noted that education was fundamental to human rights and essential to the exercise of all other human rights, albeit it is being denied to pregnant girls in Sierra Leone following a pronouncement by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology which banned pregnant girls from attending regular school or writing public examinations.
The release recalled that during the 2014/2015 academic year alone, no fewer than an estimated 15,000 girls got pregnant when schools were closed down by the government as part of its strategy to contain the Ebola viral disease.
The NGOs said they were concerned because the literacy rate for females aged 15 and above is 26.8%, while that of their male counterparts is 50%. They also contend that teenage pregnancy is predominantly caused by poverty, poor parenting, inadequate understanding of sexual and reproductive health.
The women and child rights campaigners say there is a nexus between teenage pregnancy and sexual violence perpetuated against adolescence girls as data from the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Sierra Leone Police in 2015 shows that the rate of reported cases of sexual penetration of children increased from 2,124 in 2014 to 2,398 in 2015.
They have, therefore, continued their advocacy urging government to stand its rigid stance on the controversial policy, and to positively implement domestic and municipal statutes it had enacted and/or signed and ratified.
“We are urging government to fulfill its international and regional obligations by expeditiously and completely lifting the ban preventing pregnant girls to attend formal schools. We are also urging government to enforce the Sexual Offenses Act of 2012 by holding perpetrators accountable for sexual harassment, assault and exploitation of girls and young women,” she urged, adding that government should make clear provisions for practices that support and protect pregnant girls within the formal education system, as well as in their communities against stigma and discrimination.
Eva Ayiera, End Sexual Violence Programme Officer at Equality Now, told journalists that, “we support the advancement and protection of the rights of visibly pregnant girls and their right to education,” she maintained.
Abdul Manaff Kemokai, head of DCI-SL, said the Education Act of 2004 guarantees education for all, adding that whether a girl is pregnant or not she is still entitled to education.
“When pregnant girls are taken into a separate centre to acquire education is discriminatory. They should be part of the regular school and not separate centres. In other countries, pregnant girls are not prevented from going to the regular school with others that are not pregnant and such action has never dropped their standards of education,” he explained.
He reiterated that pregnancy is not a contagious disease that transfers from one girl to another; rather, it’s just a circumstance that ends soon.