“The School told me not to attend anymore”
30 March 2020, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Today, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education announced that it has overturned the decision in 2010 which has banned adolescent pregnant girls from going to school. This will now be replaced by two new polices ‘Radical Inclusion’ and ‘Comprehensive safety’ of all children in education.
“This is good news for girls who are pregnant. I hope this will now encourage them to go to back to school and stay in school.” Fatmata* 17 a beneficiary of one of Save the Children’s projects that supports child mothers to go back to school or enrol in Vocational Skills training. “When I was pregnant I used to go to attend, when It was in the early stages. But I stopped because girls at school used to provoke me and even the teachers provoked me when they suspected because I was sick and tired all of the time. Eventually the school told me not to attend anymore ” This decision is a testament to the Government's commitment to accessible and quality education (SDG 4), and gender equality (SDG 5).
Save the Children applauds this move by government as a step in the right direction.
“Save the Children welcomes the Government of Sierra Leone's milestone announcement to overturn the decision which has prevented pregnant girls from attending school. Over the past 10 years civil society, donor and other partners have been advocating for the removal of the ban because it hampers development for the girl child.
Among adolescents aged 15-19 years, 28 percent had already begun childbearing. This can be as a result of child marriage or simply because of poverty, or girls not having enough credible information on sex to help them make informed choices. School drop-out rates have also shown that girls are also likely to drop out of school when they fall pregnant. Nearly three out of 10 girls were excluded from school because of pregnancy.
Giving pregnant adolescent girls the opportunity to continue their schooling means enabling her to see her life and her future differently. It means taking away the stress of exclusion because of her physical condition, but it also means accompanying her to continue her right to access education and still have a right to opportunities.
Save the Children believes that all children have the right to education wherever they are and girls in particular who face many challenges such as early marriage and pregnancy.”Heather Campbell, Country Director for Save the Children in Sierra Leone
Education is a basic right for all children that can transform lives and evidence shows that girls who complete secondary education earn more and are more likely to have fewer but healthier children.
Today, adolescent pregnancy is contributing to the poor enrolment and completion rate of primary and secondary education for girls, where 47% of boys complete secondary school compared to 29% of girls. Recent studies in Sierra Leone have also shown that nearly half of adolescent girls with no education have already started having children compared to 22% of those who reached secondary of higher education- keeping girls in school alone can prevent teenage.
The new policies which replace the ban, align closely with His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio commitment to making education the cornerstone of his governing agenda.
'We have a moral and constitutional duty to protect the girl child and to change her outcomes. My government is focused on and committed to inclusive national development meaning the radical inclusion of every citizen regardless of their gender, ethnicity, ability and socioeconomic or other circumstances." HE Julius Maada Bio, 13 December, 2019
This builds on a series of political decisions to ensure more children survive, learn and are protected including the announcement of the The Free Quality School Education (FQSE) framework in 2018 and the sexual offences act in 2019.
During the announcement, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education Recognised that ‘pregnant girls' school attendance has become a divisive issue across legislative, educational and civil society spaces for the last ten (10) years since the ban came into effect. However, President Bio made it clear that his 'New Direction' Government makes decisions based on both evidence and constitutional due process’.
Save the Children remains committed to supporting the government to ensure all children have access to education. Progress is underway but more can still be done to make Sierra Leone a safer, fairer place for girls to thrive, learn and be protected.
1. Create and enabling learning environment for girls: Girls are still at risk of sexual harassment at school. Water sanitation and hygiene is still poor for most meaning that they are still likely to miss school or drop out when they start menstruating.
2. Provide Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools: Government has committed to introducing Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools to ensure children have credible information to reduce teenage pregnancy and other health risks from unsafe sex at an early age. This now needs to be implemented.
3. Strengthen health and protection systems: Government needs to increase the number of Adolescent friendly sexual reproductive health services to complement their effort in education as well as strengthen legal and protection referral systems to reduce gender based violence risks.
4. Ensure girls can access education and are protected during COVID-19 public health emergency: The Ebola epidemic illustrated gaps in protection and education systems were over 18,000 girls fell pregnant. This lesson should guide government in their emergency plans to ensure girls are safe have access to education and are protected under this current emergency.
Overturning the ban is the first step in building a radically inclusive Sierra Leone where all children - regardless of class, ethnicity, tribe, disability, location, gender, reproductive or parenting status - are able to live and learn in safety and dignity.