Sierra Leone scraps ban on pregnant schoolgirls going to school

In a major policy shift, the government of Sierra Leone this week announced that it had agreed to change the law and allow pregnant schoolgirls to continue attending school. The issue has divided society in that country, with the previous government taking a strong stand against mothers-to-be being permitted to go on attending lessons in mainstream schools. However, the new government that took office about two years ago has shown itself willing to make changes on the issue. Pressure to change the law has been mounting, most recently in December 2019, with a decision of the ECOWAS Court holding that the ban was discriminatory and should be scrapped.

Read government announcement

Link to AfricanLII story on ECOWAS Court decision 

The decision of the Ecowas court in the matter is still not available on the court’s website

 

As we reported in December 2019, the ECOWAS court announced a crucial decision in the middle of that month: the judges unanimously found that a ban by Sierra Leone on pregnant girls attending mainstream schools and writing exams, was discriminatory and had to be overturned.

Now the government of Sierra Leone has complied. On Monday of this week the ministry of basic and senior secondary education issued a two-page statement announcing that the 2010 government ban on pregnant girls attending schools had been overturned. It would be replaced by a new policy focused on the ‘radical inclusion’ and ‘comprehensive safety’ of all children in the education system of Sierra Leone.

Commitment

The ministry stressed that the original ban had been the work of the previous government, and that the present government had a different view of things, with a strong commitment to education.

‘In line with this commitment, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education under the leadership of … David Moinina Sengeh, hereby announces that the ban on pregnant girls – inherited from the previous administration – is overturned with immediate effect. This decision was taken by Cabinet at its sitting on 18 March 2020.’

Gender equality

The statement added that the decision demonstrated the government’s commitment to accessible and quality education as well as gender equality.

The issue of pregnant girls attending school had been divisive across all of society for the last 10 years. But the President had made clear that his ‘new direction’ had involved both evidence and constitutional process.

A taskforce, convened by the ministry had involved religious leaders, government ministries, national and international development partners, teachers and school administrators, lawmakers and civil society organisations. Among others they consulted the girls ‘most impacted by the ban’, and then they developed recommendations for ‘radical inclusion and comprehensive safety of all children’.

Dignity

The statement ended: ‘Overturning the ban is the first step in building a radically inclusive Sierra Leone where all children – regardless of class, ethnicity, tribe, disability, location, gender, reproductive or parenting status – are able to live and learn in safety and dignity.’