United Nations frowns on the banning of pregnant girls attending school

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 April 2015   

school children - Sierra Leone CARSchools across Sierra Leone were officially opened yesterday. But as predicted in several communities, only a handful of parents approved the government’s decision to reopen schools without adequate preparations that would guarantee the safety of ALL of their children.

Several schools reopened without access to water. Most classrooms are still unfit for human accommodation, with poor sanitation, broken desks and chairs – deplorable conditions that have characterised the standards of education and hindered quality of learning in schools.

But of noticeable absence yesterday, were the thousands of girls who are now pregnant – victims not of Ebola, but men who took advantage under the cloak of Ebola.

The policy of the government of Sierra Leone is not to allow pregnant school girls to return to school, thus further denying girls of their right to education as enshrined in the country’s Constitution and the UN Human Rights Charter.

The government defends their decision on grounds of health and safety, as well as the need to protect other children from distraction that could be caused in the classroom by the presence of pregnant girls.

Whiles many Sierra Leoneans may have sympathy with the government’s argument, most would prefer for the government to have made alternative provision for the pregnant girls to continue their studies.

This policy failure has triggered widespread debate among Sierra Leoneans both at home and in the diaspora. Many argue that the government should have provided private home tuition for the girls.

schools reopen in Sierra Leone

Today, the United Nations has issued a statement expressing its disappointment with the government’s policy, and reminds president Koroma of his sacred commitment to the United Nations Charter and the country’s Constitution.

This is what the United Nations said:  

The United Nations in Sierra Leone notes the decision taken by the Government of Sierra Leone to disqualify pregnant schoolgirls from attending school and from sitting school examinations.

The United Nations wishes to remind the Government of Sierra Leone that education is a fundamental human right that Sierra Leone has committed itself to uphold.

Article 4.1 of Sierra Leone’s Education Act (2004) includes the principle of non-discrimination in accessing education.

As a state Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Sierra Leone has accepted its international obligation under the Charter of the United Nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of human rights and freedoms, which includes Article 13 of the Covenant, the right to education.

school childrenFurthermore, under Article 2.2 of the Covenant, Sierra Leone undertakes to guarantee the right to education without discrimination of any kind, including on the basis of sex.

The United Nations would encourage the Sierra Leone authorities to adopt a policy whereby pregnant schoolgirls can enjoy an education that is available, accessible and acceptable: 

  • Available means that functioning educational institutions and programmes have to be available in sufficient quantity within Sierra Leone for the pregnant schoolgirls;
  • Accessible means that the schools must be accessible without discrimination; that they are physically accessible (i.e. within safe physical reach); and that they are affordable;
  • Acceptable means that the form and substance of education, including curricula and teaching methods, have to be acceptable.

The United Nations in Sierra Leone stands ready to assist the Government in fulfilling the right to education for all its children, irrespective of their temporary status as a pregnant teenager.

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