The case according to Equality Now, was seeking to lift the ban on pregnant school girls from attending school in Sierra Leone. The ban has been in place since 2015 with the reason that girls were thought to be a bad influence on their peers.
Speaking to AYV newspaper last evening was the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Education, Brima Michael Turay. He said the ministry was yet to receive any notice of court action against them at the ECOWAS court.
However, he recounted that in 2015, the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) wrote a letter to the ministry complaining about the excess and repeated poor performance of pregnant schoolgirls in public examinations.
He said being that it was the government that was responsible for paying exams fees for these girls, the ministry saw it as a waste of government resources and decided to table a cabinet paper in parliament seeking a ban on all visibly pregnant schoolgirls from going to school, by extension, stopping them from sitting in the same class with non-pregnant girls.
Turay went on to say the ban was approved by parliament and that in order to cater for these pregnant schoolgirls, the then Minister of Education, Dr. Minkailu Bah advocated and ensured the increase in the number of adult learning centres countrywide and also established the Girls Access To Education (GATE) project. Through this, he concluded, over 5000 girls were successfully returned to normal schooling after giving birth.
However, Turay assured that as a ministry, they are all set to challenge any argument on the essence of the ban in any court.
“EN & partners have engaged state & non-state actors to advocate for the lifting of this ban. Unfortunately, efforts have been fruitless & the violation of girls’ rights to education continues unabated, hence the need to litigate on the issue at the regional court,” EN said in a statement.
In April 2015 – just as the country was about starting the post-Ebola era, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology issued a statement banning pregnant girls from mainstream education and from sitting exams.
According to statistics, one in three pregnant persons is a teenager. In response to international pressure related to these controversial exclusion measures, the government has been forced to open special classes for pregnant girls.
According to a report in December 2017, pregnant girls can continue their education, following a very light program, and away from other adolescents. But, young fathers are spared.
The government at the time said the initiative was a success: 5,000 of the 14,000 girls enrolled in these special schools eventually returned to traditional school after pregnancy. But nearly two-thirds of them remain permanently excluded from the education system.
“It is not because these girls are pregnant that their education has to stop. That’s very clear, and we told the Minister of Education: we want these girls to be educated, not discriminated against, but the government does not allow that,” Wongani Taulo, in charge of education for UNICEF noted.
Sex education does not exist in Sierra Leone. And even temporary solutions are under threat: the government says it does not have enough money to continue funding these courses.