“This immediately went into action, and thousands of girls were denied access to education and were barred from taking exams. The government justified the policy as the protection of ‘innocent girls’ from negative influences, which stigmatizes pregnant girls”, the organisation said on their website.
It said many of those girls became pregnant as a result of sexual violence or a lack of sex education, adding that the country had failed to protect them from sexual violence and failed them by removing sexual and health education from their school curriculums many years ago.
“These girls should not be punished, and should be granted the same rights as any other child. The prohibition on visibly pregnant girls attending mainstream schools and taking exams is hopelessly misguided, and , which surged during the devastating Ebola crisis, and remains high despite this ban,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“Rather than humiliating and excluding teenage girls, Sierra Leone’s authorities should focus on increasing sexual and reproductive health information in schools, and protecting girls from sexual violence and abusive relationships. Unless these issues are addressed, the cycle of unwanted early pregnancy will continue for generations to come,” he added.
The organisation referenced reports that had complained about girls being put through humiliating and degrading treatment such as .
It noted that that was traumatizing and put affected girls at an increased risk of abuse. It said many girls had stated that the treatment left them feeling abandoned and discouraged, especially when were not allowed to participate in the exams they had prepared for.
“Not only are they left behind in their studies, but they are also ostracized and abused by their families and communities. These actions are discriminatory and a violation of rights enshrined in international conventions, and they have a negative impact on the future of the country”, it said.
International conventions and local laws have emphasised that education was a human right and should be accessible to every child, regardless of their condition. It was therefore critical to the development of the child and the progression of a society to ensure that girls were educated.
“This ban will only cause these girls to be more at risk of violence and discrimination, as well as impact the stability of the country’s economy, health, mortality rates, and more.
Meanwhile, the government of Sierra Leone had responded to the crisis due to international and national pressures.
President Ernest Bai Koroma announced that the establishment of an alternative “bridging” education system that would allow pregnant girls to continue going to school. Separate, but supposedly equal.
But Amnesty International said the attempt by government at “protecting values and culture” while claiming to maintain its obligations under international standards was still not a good solution for the issue.
“Although many girls registered immediately and had positive things to say about the bridging system, they are still being stigmatized and ostracized for the situation they are in. The bridging program ended in August of 2016, but another education program for pregnant girls, or any girl who dropped out of school, was put into place with the help of UNICEF. Though this new program has been well received by the international community, it still does not grant pregnant girls the right to take exams.
“Also, concern still remains about the lack of choice for pregnant girls due to the ban and their inability to sit in on exams. It also does not guarantee access to sex education, which would be a violation of Sierra Leone’s legal obligation to provide equal access to quality education for all children”.
Beyond the scope of education, AI argued, the young girls were being heavily subjected to discrimination, adding that regardless of government’s commitment to meeting international standards, its policy continue to blatantly stigmatize the girls, which did not only reinforced the negative stereotypes surrounding them, but discriminated and ostracized them from society just the same.
“This cannot but impact the psychosocial development of these girls. We need to remember that separate but equal is not equal,” it said.