Being a girl in Sierra Leone comes with enormous insecurity and risks. With one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world, the most significant challenge facing girls is the barrier to education if they become pregnant (Folan, 2016). Education must be available to all, irrespective of race, gender, age or sex. It is an essential right for all humans, and it permits each individual to receive instruction and succeed socially. It is also a key contributor to the economic, social and cultural development. It enables the individuals to acquire a variety of knowledge and see the world around us a differently. Develops the individual’s personality and identity as well as their physical and intellectual capabilities. And most importantly it provides and enables an improved quality of life, offering the underprivileged a chance to escape from the harsh reality of poverty and struggle.
So is it fair not to provide this chance or the opportunity for a girl who has become pregnant, most likely been forced into this situation against her will or knowledge? Many of these girls become pregnant as a result of sexual violence or a lack of sex education. Don’t these girls deserve the opportunity to come out of this struggle and succeed in life? Build a future to be independent and even take care of their child without the need or support from anyone else. Having to stick by and be abused and judged by society and men.
Sierra Leone has failed significantly to protect these girls from sexual violence, and it has also failed them by getting rid of sexual health education from their school curriculums years ago. One of these unfortunate events to unfold on the children was when the minister of education for Science and technology released a statement which said that to ban all girls who are pregnant from the school setting with immediate effect! How on earth would anyone have a right to snatch away something as sacred as education? How can you expect your country to move forward when a vast majority of the children are getting turned away from getting a basic right still baffles me to this day? But by the looks of it, this doesn’t deter the government officials from passing these absurd laws. They even went to the extent of justifying their acts by stating that this policy was put forward to protect “innocent girls” from been influenced by the negative acts of the pregnant girls. Is this fair? Whatever happened to give a chance to correct a mistake they’ve made doesn’t seem to exist.
Amnesty International’s regional director for Central Africa stated that “The prohibition on visibly pregnant girls attending mainstream schools and taking exams is hopelessly misguided, and is doing nothing to address the root causes of Sierra Leone’s high teenage pregnancy rate, which surged during the devastating Ebola crisis, and remains high despite this ban”(Tine, 2016). What I personally think of this crisis is that, instead of excluding and humiliating these young girls from the education spectrum, they should rather increase the focus on reproductive and sexual health information’s in their schools. Prohibiting these girls from school will not change a thing unless the Government officials related to this issue isn’t going to tackle the root cause of this result, which is, addressing the high teenage pregnancy rate. Unless and until this root cause isn’t eliminated, the cycle of unwanted early pregnancy will only keep rising for generations to come.
There have also been reports on how some of these girls are put through degrading and humiliating treatments, such as being forced to take pregnancy tests and in-depth physical scanning to find any signs of pregnancy. This is not only wrong on so many counts but extremely traumatizing for these young girls who just wanted to only attend school to get a basic education to support their families. Reports state that some of these girls have felt being abandoned and not accepted by their own people. Not only are they feeling the full brunt of the unfair treatment of the government but their own communities and at times their own families abuse them. Where are they left to go? Who is going to accept them? That is where humanity should step in and find a solution for these innocent souls.
These visible actions on these children are a violation of rights which are enshrined in any international conventions and this would only mean the country would suffer in the long run. Education is a basic human right and for a society to step up and move forward they need to ensure that their girls are educated. This absurd ban would only mean more discrimination and violence. Long-term health effects can also be caused by the psychological trauma these young girls go through could mean their offspring could be susceptible to such effects too. Due to the increasing pressure from international organizations, the president of Sierra Leone put forward an alternative “bridging” education system. This would mean the pregnant girls could attend school but still won’t be able to give exams.
The future of education in Sierra Leone cannot be bright if they keep on neglecting these girls out of schooling. What are the chances one of these “neglected” girls end up bringing Sierra Leone into the world stage in Science? Or a breakthrough in medicine? A cure for cancer? So personally education is a right that everyone should get regardless of their background or struggles.
- org. (2016). Sierra Leone: Continued pregnancy ban in schools and failure to protect rights is threatening teenage girls’ futures. [online] Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/sierra-leone-continued-pregnancy-ban-in-schools-and-failure-to-protect-rights-is-threatening-teenage-girls-futures/ [Accessed 16 Dec. 2016].
- (2016). Expelled pregnant girls go back to school in Sierra Leone. [online] Available at: http://theirworld.org/news/expelled-pregnant-girls-go-back-to-school-in-sierra-leone [Accessed 16 Dec. 2016].
- (2016). In Sierra Leone, Pregnant Girls Don’t Have to Miss Out on Education. [online] Available at: http://www.voanews.com/a/sierra-leone-pregnant-girls-alternative-education/3207894.html [Accessed 16 Dec. 2016].
- (2016). Sierra Leone Banned Pregnant Girls From School And This Lawmaker Wants That To End. [online] Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jinamoore/sierra-leone-banned-pregnant-girls-from-school-and-this-lawm?utm_term=.ukxkvnL0A6#.vsBZJdRqNy [Accessed 16 Dec. 2016].
- Folan, A. (2016). Shamed and blamed: Protecting the rights of pregnant girls in Sierra Leone – Concern. [online] Concern. Available at: http://www.concernusa.org/story/shamed-and-blamed-protecting-the-rights-of-pregnant-girls-in-sierra-leone/ [Accessed 16 Dec. 2016].
- International Business Times UK. (2016). Ebola has forced thousands of girls to have sex in return for food, money and school fees. [online] Available at: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/sierra-leone-ebola-crisis-sparks-teen-pregnancy-surge-girls-face-sexual-exploitation-1566470 [Accessed 16 Dec. 2016].