In Sierra Leone, students are returning to school for the first time since the Ebola outbreak, but one group of students will remain unable to return: pregnant girls.
Minister of Education Minkailu Bah announced the ban last week as he suggested that pregnant girls would be a negative influence on other students. This ban would also prevent students from taking the exams they needed to graduate and attend college.
Chairmen of the Conference of Principals Sylvester Mehuex also backed up the decision and agreed with the reasoning behind the change:
“In our own culture, in the secondary school, they don’t allow girls who are visibly pregnant to go and take exams. We have a belief that it will encourage other girls to do the same thing. Others will copy that example, and we’ll have a lot of them [pregnant girls] in our school system.”
Human rights groups have spoken up since the announcement and stated their disapproval, specifically Sabrina Mahtani, who is Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher:
“Many of these girls have already been very disadvantaged over the last eight months, having been impacted by the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. And there has been a reported increase in sexual violence as well as a reported increase in pressure on girls to engage in transactional sex due to the very harsh economic impacts of Ebola. This is not a favour [to pregnant girls], this is a fundamental human right to education. And these girls have a right not to be discriminated against, and also have a right not to be stigmatised just because they’re girls,” she added.
Congress of the People (Cope) felt that it was unfair that only these girls were being targeted and not the boys who were also involved during the pregnancy:
“But the other problem is about the boys who have impregnated the girls. It will be unfair to only expel or suspend this child from school and then the boy must still continue with his education.”
This new policy also violates the United Nation’s treaties against discrimination of women and children, The Citizen reports. An example of just one of these women who will be negatively impacted by the decision is Marie Koroma, who resorted to having sex with men for money and as a result became pregnant soon after.
Many of those also include victims of sexual assault, of which there were 2,200 reported cases of in Sierra Leone during 2014. This comes in higher than 2013 when reports saw figures as low as 1,500, with the increase most likely due to the Ebola outbreak.