May 18, 2018
By Hassan Gbassay Koroma in Bo
A group of civil society organisations – Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (WAVES), Defence for Children Sierra Leone, Graceland, Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace (WPJP) – and Equality Now on Thursday, 17th May 2018, filed a suit against the Government of Sierra Leone at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja, Nigeria, seeking to lift the ban on pregnant school girls from attending school and sitting examinations in Sierra Leone.
The controversial ban on pregnant girls attending school and sitting their examinations was imposed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in April 2015, just before schools re-opened following the Ebola outbreak and declared official government policy.
The organisations described the action of the Ministry of Education as crime against the affected girls, adding that the decision has no force of law, but a one-man decision that poses grave threat to the future of many girls in the country.
They said the ban violates the right of pregnant school girls and that the government should be reminded to immediately lift it and fulfil its international obligation under the protocol of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
According to the rights groups, thousands of adolescent girls that are exposed to sexual violations, abuse or exploitation are still being denied the right to attend school in the country.
They averred that education is a fundamental human right, essential for the exercise of all other human rights, yet that right is being denied to pregnant school girls in Sierra Leone.
They maintained that the discriminatory policy has unfairly affected pregnant school girls under the age of eighteen years who cannot legally consent to sex but are having their right to education denied.
They also noted that the government of Sierra Leone has failed to address the prevalence of teenage pregnancy and to bring the perpetrators of sexual violence to book.
The group also urged the government to ensure that the Sexual Offences Act of 2012 is being enforced so that perpetrators are held accountable for sexual harassment, assault and exploitation of girls.
According to a press statement read on behalf of the coalition at J & E Resort in Bo, southern Sierra Leone, Ms. Hannah F.Y. Yambasu, National Coordinator WAVES, said the ban was issued and implemented against the backdrop that the government knew that many of the school girls were sexually violated during the Ebola crisis.
Ms. Yambasu noted that the affected girls were minors and therefore statutorily incapable of consenting to sexual relations in the first instance, adding that their discrimination and violation did not end with the enforcement of the ban as schools subjected many girls to degrading physical searches and tests, humiliating them amongst their peers and communities.
She lamented that despite numerous engagements with different state actors in an attempt to have the ban lifted, nothing has been done.
“It has now been four years since the issuance of the ban, four years of young teenage girls being denied education, four years their lives being robbed. Pregnant girls are being blamed and shamed and are being denied the opportunity to move forward with their lives, while the perpetrators walked scot free,” she told journalists.
She noted that if no one intervened now the action would result to lifetime illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and extreme violations of girls, adding that their motive of filing the suit at the ECOWAS Court of Justice on behalf of the girls was to seek justice for the latter and tackle discrimination.
In addition, Executive Director of Defence for Children Sierra Leone, Abdul Manafff Kemokia, said the campaign for the government to allow pregnant girls to return to school started a year ago by some rights groups.
Kemokai said the Sierra Leone Government has over the years signed international treaties which make it mandatory for every girl to attend school – pregnant or not – and that they would continue their campaign until the government reverses its policy of stopping pregnant girls from attending school.
He said government failed to protect the rights of children when pregnant girls were barred from going to school and sitting their exams, adding that over five hundred girls under the age of eighteen years were sexually abused and molested during the Ebola outbreak.
He said if the government failed to lift the ban it would affect girls in the country, with a tendency to increasing illiteracy and bringing more hardship to the doorstep of victims.
Fatamata Binta Kanneh, Gender Officer at Bo District Council, said her council totally condemns the ban on pregnant girls going to school, adding that they have over the years embarked on sensitisations aimed at eradicating or reducing teenage pregnancy in that part of the country.
The head of civil society organisations in Bo, Jeremy Ben Simbo, who is also Southern Region Coordinator for Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, said education is a legal right of children and that the ban on pregnant girls was a total violation of their right to education.
Meanwhile, Judy Gitau-Nkuranga of Equality Now remarked that, “Today marks the beginning of the realisation of rights for girls in Sierra Leone. The ECOWAS Court is finally seized of the injustices suffered by girls in Sierra Leone.”
There has been no comment yet from the new administration of President Julius Maada Bio.