In a landmark ruling that could have repercussions on one of the problems facing Africa and Sierra Leone in particular, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court on Thursday instructed the government of Sierra Leone to allow pregnant girls to attend school. Furthermore, the Sierra Leonean government must abolish a part-time school arrangement for pregnant schoolgirls, according to the court ruling.
Following an increase in teenage pregnancy rates, after many schools were closed during the Ebola tragedy in 2015, the government of Sierra Leone prohibited pregnant girls from mainstream schools from attending schools. Rather than being admitted into schools, specialized centres were established for pregnant students. This decision by the government has been severely criticized and challenged in the court by rights activists, who have labelled it discriminatory.
Discriminatory, one could call it, but it amounts to double jeopardy for the victims, who are, in most cases, from incredibly poor families. It is a lifetime opportunity for these poor girls to go to school, however, if such a rare chance is taken away from them, it is tantamount to a quick invitation to a precarious future for the girls. But if limiting pregnant girls’ access to school is a sort of punishment for their actions, what happens to the males who are responsible for the girls’ pregnancies, some opponents have questioned?
Of course, granting pregnant girls’ access to the school should not be seen as encouraging youths to become promiscuous. Rather the government must do all it can, to give the victims, who, in most cases, did not want to become pregnant, another opportunity to better their lives. Some of the pregnant girls have been victims of rape; would it be fair to punish them more by denying them an educational opportunity?
We have seen a similar government policy in Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania, where pregnant girls are banned from going back to school. With the court ruling against Sierra Leone, many people hope other African countries would reverse their policy and give the pregnant girls another opportunity to change their damaged life.
Rather than barring pregnant girls from attending schools, African governments should perhaps encourage sex education to create awareness of the dangers of unprotected and unsolicited sex, which may lead to unwanted pregnancies. Prevention, they say, is better than cure.