Pregnant girls and teenage mothers can now return to schools in Sierra Leone

A 10-yr ban which has prevented pregnant girls and teenage mothers from attending schools in Sierra Leone has been lifted.

On March 30, 2020, President Julius Maada Bio and Education Minister David Moinina Sengeh announced the immediate end to the school ban against pregnant girls and teenage mothers in place since 2010.

Sierra Leone was among a handful of countries in Africa that explicitly banned girls who became pregnant or are mothers from its schools. In December 2019, in a case brought by a coalition of Sierra Leonean and international groups, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that the ban was discriminatory and ordered the Sierra Leone government to revoke it. The court also found that alternative schools for pregnant students, a largely donor-funded government program, was also discriminatory.

Teenage pregnancy is endemic in Sierra Leone. Thirty-six percent of all pregnancies in the country occur among adolescent girls. Only 38 percent of girls are enrolled in secondary schools.

In late 2018, Sierra Leone’s first lady, Fatima Bio, opened a national campaign “Hands Off Our Girls.” Her campaign focused on reducing child marriages and teenage pregnancies in the country, in part to tackle the spike in teenage pregnancies following widespread rape during the Ebola crisis.

Reflecting on this campaign, President Bio stated “We have wasted a lot of time in restricting the potentials of women and girls.”

The Sierra Leone government’s decision to allow girls who are pregnant or have a child to attend school is an important step to improve education for girls in the country, Human Rights Watch said.

“By ending the 10-year ban against pregnant girls and teenage mothers attending school, the Sierra Leone government is finally addressing a longstanding injustice,” said Elin Martinez, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. Adding that “The measure gives every girl the chance to achieve her full potential and succeed in getting her education.”

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