Sierra Leone president in talks over school ban on pregnant girls

Girls' education

Chernor Bah talks to Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma

Schools in Sierra Leone started to reopen last week – eight months after being closed by the Ebola crisis. But as students started to return to their classrooms, one group was told they were not welcome.

Pregnant girls have been told to stay away by the country’s education minister. The ban outraged education and human rights campaigners, including A World at School co-founder and Sierra Leone native Chernor Bah.

In an effort to ensure that all girls get an education, Chernor has met President Ernest Bai Koroma. He said: “I respect him for listening and for his willingness to explore solutions. I know he is committed to girls’ education. And I’m committed to using all means necessary to achieve the dreams of education for our girls.”

The Ebola outbreak killed almost people 4000 in Sierra Leone. Millions of children missed out on their education for many months as the schools were closed. Reopening them signalled a return to normality for the West African country – but the decision to bar pregnant girls has caused a storm.

It is estaimated that teenage pregnancies have doubled during the Ebola crisis, which would mean thousands of girls being denied an education in a country where only about 5% of people aged 15 to 24 said they used a condom the last time they had sex.

Girls in Sierra Leone gather during the Ebola outbreak Picture: Chernor Bah

Education Minister Minkailu Bah said last month that visibly pregnant girls would not be allowed into classes. He was backed by Sylvester Meheux, chairman of the Conference of Principals, who said allowing pregnant girls to go to school “will encourage other girls to do the same thing”.

When he heard that, Chernor said that many girls were “not having sex out of choice” and added: “There is a lot of statutory rape that’s happening.” He said that in areas where four or five families area living in one compound and girls are not at school, this can lead to sexual activity. This – coupled with very low rates of using contraception – has led to a rise in pregnancies among young girls.

Last week Chernor wrote a blog on the subject for Africa Is A Country. In it, he said: “Show me one person who has seen a pregnant girl and thought, I also want to get pregnant. There’s simply no evidence of this ‘influence’ yet so far nothing has convinced Bah to reconsider his position.”

He added: “In a country with one of the highest adult illiteracy rates in the world, we should be busy building bridges for all to access education – instead we are building walls and shutting out hundreds. That has to change.”

Sign the #UpForSchool Petition to demand all children have the opportunity to learn and achieve their potential in Sierra Leone. You can also sign Chernor’s #UpForSchool Petition here or in the form below.

And you can read a blog by A World at School Campaign Director Ben Hewitt on banning pregnant girls from school.

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