Pregnant girls and young mothers have difficulties to continue with their education. In Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone pregnant girls are banned from schools. In Tanzania, girls are forced to take regular pregnancy tests in school and drop out if they are pregnant. This is an active failure of the states to recognise that the right to education is a universal right. This is not the case in all countries. In the South African School Act, no 84 states that pregnant girls should not be denied access to education.
In countries without discriminatory policies, young mothers and pregnant girls still face unfairness in their communities. Some school officials and students think that these girls should not have access to education, because it is a privilege. However, pregnant girls should not be punished by being denied education, because it is a fundamental right by virtue of human dignity. In addition, they may become pregnant against their own will, because of their economic background, physical force or peer pressure. For these reasons, thousands of girls miss out on educational opportunities unfairly.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ON THE LARGE SCALE?
Education can be made more accessible to young mothers and pregnant girls in different ways. Firstly, countries that already recognise the importance of supporting adolescent mothers and pregnant girls should encourage other countries to scrap their discriminatory policies and adopt schemes that support these girls instead. Secondly, governments should focus on educating girls about sexual protection as part of curricular to prevent unintended pregnancies. Thirdly, countries should adopt inclusion policies stating clearly what and when school officials should do and when young mothers can return to school. Other “continuation” policies have already been adopted in Malawi, Kenya and Gabon. Finally, education can be made more accessible if mothers are given a choice between morning or evening schooling shifts like in Zambia, or if early childhood centers are opened like in Malawi.
WHAT CAN BE DONE IN YOUR COMMUNITY?
Young mothers and pregnant girls also face discrimination in their communities. Teachers and other students feel like they can criticize them. School officials ignore the inclusion laws that are already in place. This is worrying, because the right to education is independent of someone’s marital or parental statuses. People in the same community should be understanding and supportive of each other, so that everyone can do well and contribute to the community’s development. In this way, there are many ways to make sure that no girl is left behind.