Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Uganda and São Tomé and Príncipe act to protect girls’ education, but obstacles remain • Today News Africa

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At least five other African countries have taken significant steps in recent years to protect the right to education of pregnant students and teenage mothers, but some obstacles remain, Human Rights Watch said.

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Since 2019, at least five countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and São Tomé and Príncipe – have either repealed restrictive or discriminatory policies or passed laws or policies that allow pregnant students and teenage mothers to stay in school. under certain conditions.

“More and more African governments are taking stronger action to support girls’ rights to education,” said Elin Martinez, senior researcher on children’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “But many girls still face huge government-imposed barriers that deny them their right to education and force schools to turn their backs on them when they need support the most.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in teenage pregnancies in many African countries, according to reports from the United Nations, media and civil society. This increase could be linked to prolonged school closures – all African countries closed their schools in 2020 – and the lack of distance learning opportunities during the pandemic, the lack of protective environments and the loss of access to sexual and reproductive health services.

At least 30 African Union (AU) countries now have laws, policies or strategies to protect the right to education of pregnant students and teenage mothers. Sierra Leone reversed its policy in 2020, lifting a discriminatory ban on pregnant schoolgirls and teenage mothers and adopting a stronger inclusive education policy.

In March 2021, Sierra Leone adopted a “radical inclusion” policy that reaffirms the right of pregnant girls and teenage mothers to education. It also provides that girls can stay in school during pregnancy and return to school when ready, without imposing onerous conditions, compulsory maternity leave or restrictions on their return.

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In March 2020, São Tomé e Príncipe repealed a ministerial decree that required pregnant students to study at night schools after the third month of pregnancy and throughout its duration. This action was linked to a US $ 15 million grant funded mainly by the World Bank for the country’s strategy to improve the quality of education and accelerate the education of girls.

In December 2020, Uganda introduced revised guidelines on the prevention and management of pregnancies in schools. The policy affirms the right to education of pregnant students or parents, although it places many conditions on enrollment. It obliges schools to prioritize the readmission of mothers and daughters after pregnancy and offers redress to children and parents when public schools refuse to enroll them. It also gives schools advice on tackling stigma, discrimination and violence against pregnant students or parents.

However, it also spells out a series of strict “reinstatement” conditions, including the requirement for girls to drop out when they are three months pregnant and to take compulsory six-month maternity leave. Human Rights Watch has previously found that some of these conditions are an effective barrier, especially since girls will have to stay out of school for up to a year. The policy relies on periodic pregnancy tests that are effectively mandatory to detect and prevent pregnancies, violating girls’ rights to privacy, equality and bodily autonomy.

In 2019, Zimbabwe reformed its education law to include a provision prohibiting the exclusion of pregnant students from school. The law also protects students against discrimination based on marital status, among nearly 20 protected grounds.

In December 2018, Mozambique repealed a national decree that required pregnant students to study at night schools. However, the government has yet to adopt a policy guaranteeing girls’ right to stay in school, or prescribing how schools should now deal with pregnant students and teenage mothers.

Although Kenya has two old policies that set the conditions for the ‘unconditional’ readmission of a teenage mother to school, in 2020 the government adopted national reintegration guidelines for students facing educational barriers that drop out of school, especially due to pregnancy. The policy specifies that pregnant students can stay in school as long as possible and should return to school at least six months after childbirth, at the start of the following calendar year.

However, three AU countries still adhere to policies prohibiting pregnant girls and teenage mothers from attending school. Tanzania maintains an official ban on pregnant students and teenage mothers in public schools, which was tightened during the presidency of the late John Magufuli.

Pregnant girls are arbitrarily denied the right to study in public primary and lower secondary schools. Teenage mothers can only study in “alternative education pathways,” a large-scale national education program funded by a $ 500 million loan from the World Bank. This loan raised concerns about the World Bank’s broader commitment to implement its environmental and social framework, which ensures that bank loans will not be used to increase discrimination and that World Bank funds will not be used. not used to undermine marginalized groups.

The World Bank should work with governments to move education systems towards the full inclusion and accommodation of all girls in public schools, including those who are pregnant or parents. He should use his influence to work with African governments to remove discriminatory or problematic policies that undermine the progress of education for all children, and encourage all governments to adopt inclusive and rights-respecting policies, Human said. Rights Watch.

Governments that have taken significant and bold steps to remove restrictions and discriminatory provisions from their laws and policies should go further and adopt positive measures that fully promote girls’ right to education and that require schools to include and support pregnant students or parents, Human Rights Watch said. All governments should ensure that their education systems are non-discriminatory and consider policy reviews to promote girls’ rights to education and their sexual and reproductive rights, including comprehensive sexuality education.

“Many African countries are showing leadership in safeguarding every girl’s right to education,” Martinez said. “The African Union should pressure all African countries to adopt measures to ensure that all schools and government officials have guidance and examples of good practice on creating inclusive public schools. where all girls, including those who are pregnant or teenage mothers, can complete primary and secondary education. “

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