Via Ebola Deeply: No Multiplication in Sierra Leone's Classrooms, as Pregnant Girls Barred from School. Excerpt:
Visibly pregnant girls and young mothers will be excluded from completing their education when schools reopen in Sierra Leone later this month, according to a new ruling announced by the Ministry of Education this week.
Dr. Minkailu Bah, Minister of Education, Science and Technology said “[pregnant girls'] presence in the classroom would serve as a negative influence to other innocent girls."
Human rights groups have slammed the move, which specifies that pregnant girls and young mothers cannot sit the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the West Africa Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) - essentially barring them from graduating from high school or continuing on to university.
In a statement, the Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission said the policy "discriminates against women and girls, and this pattern of stigmatizing would only worsen their ... vulnerability." "When I was going to school I had a lot to do to engage my mind”
Sixteen-year-old high school student Kadiatu Kamara fell pregnant at the height of the Ebola outbreak.
"When I was going to school I had a lot to do to engage my mind, including school assignments," she said. "But this long holiday due to Ebola distracted me, and got me into this situation."
Kamara added that even though she would like to go back to school with her classmates, she would be afraid of how they might react to her.
"I'm too shy to stand their provocations," she said.
But now Kamara, and thousands like her, have no choice; their access to education has been barred twice - first by Ebola, and now by the new ruling.
Even before the Ebola outbreak began, teenage pregnancy – alongside early marriage, financial hardship and the onset of menstruation (for girls attending schools without latrines) – was a major reason why fewer girls than boys attended high school in Sierra Leone.
According to a UNICEF 2014 report, 33 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys were in secondary education from 2008 to 2012.
There is not yet any reliable data on the rate of teenage pregnancy during the Ebola outbreak, but NGOs and U.N. agencies – as well as Sierra Leone's First Lady, Sia Koroma – have spoken out about a rise in cases.
And according to the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone police, more than 2,000 cases of sexual abuse against children were recorded in 2014 – a record high. Many more cases have likely gone unreported.