Human rights organization Amnesty International says that pregnant teens in Sierra Leone are stigmatized and deprived of their right to education under a new policy that bans visibly pregnant girls from attending school and taking exams. Amnesty’s report highlights humiliating practices of girls being publicly examined to determine if they’re pregnant.
Following a months-long hiatus from schools due to the Ebola outbreak, thousands of girls in Sierra Leone did not return to school after a new government policy bans girls that are visibly pregnant to attend school. The practice has been going on for years, but it only gained official government sanction this April.
According to Amnesty International’s report, “Shamed and Blamed: Pregnant Girls’ Rights at risk in Sierra Leone”, the policy not only humiliates young girls but also puts their education prospects at risk because it discourages both pregnant and non-pregnant girls from going to school in fear of public pregnancy tests, NPR reports.
The human rights organization interviewed 52 girls, with many saying they’re terrified of the idea of being found out, Yubanet reports. Out of the 52 girls, 13 were pregnant or had recently given birth. A girl said that before being allowed to sit for an exam, the teacher physically examined her and her peers to see if any were pregnant. As a result:
“Many girls left as they were scared the teachers would find out they are pregnant. About 12 pregnant girls did not sit their exams,” the 18-year old said according to Amnesty’s report.
Approximately 60 percent of Sierra Leone girls between 15 and 24 are literate compared to 75 percent of their male counterparts, 2013 government survey data reveal according to Trust.org.
Teachers and school nurses examine the breasts and stomachs of young girls in front of their peers and force girls to take urine tests to determine if they’re pregnant. As a result, thousands of girls in the country that are pregnant by mistake or because of rape are now banned from taking exams and are excluded from education. Amnesty International says this violates the girls’ human rights.
“Excluding pregnant girls from mainstream schools and banning them from sitting crucial exams is discriminatory and will have devastating consequences. Education is a right and not something for governments to arbitrarily take away as a punishment,” Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher said.
The organization urges Sierra Leone to respect girls’ right to privacy, as well as their right to physical and mental integrity. Amnesty International has also called for a sex education class that would help both girls and boys make better decisions regarding their sexuality and health.
The state justifies the policy as a way of protecting girls from potentially bad role models. The Ministry of Education also said that pregnant students cannot concentrate or participate in class and that pregnancy could put them at risk of ridicule and stigma, Trust.Org reports.
Officials have denied that physical tests take place in schools. They say physical checks aren’t necessary since the state policy only applies to girls who are visibly pregnant, Pakistan Today notes.