As a reminder of how wise our current First Lady is — in choosing girls’ education, globally, as one of her focused priorities — and as part of the weekend’s theme here, of looking to empower young women, in education — we must report on some ongoing troubling news, out of Sierra Leone. [And this properly resides here, as Merck (among several others) makes and distributes an array of the contraceptives being only-sporadically deployed, in country, as well as the vaccine — and we’ve been covering the race for a reliable acute treatment, as well.] Right to it, then:
The effects of the Ebola crisis there will be felt for decades. Even as the education ministers get back to normal enrollment levels (which sadly are around 50 per cent of all school age eligible children), policies on pregnancies are likely to prevent a whole class of ebola survivors — young girls — from using formal education as a means to lift themselves out of poverty, and danger.
Here is the story of the continuing shunning of pregnant ebola girls — in Sierra Leone. Please do read it all.
Only recently has President Koroma relented — and started to re-admit pregnant teens from ebola ravaged areas back into school. But perhaps nearly half of them are still not being admitted, for the astonishing reason that they were the victims of sexual violence (and thought to be a bad influence in the classroom). It is not clear how many girls were (and are) affected by that portion of the ban. Official figures suggest at least five thousand, but experts mapping the situation indicate that the true figure may be far higher. Here’s a bit, from a slightly dated Amnesty International (PDF here) study, on the topic:
. . . .Visibly pregnant girls in Sierra Leone are banned from attending mainstream school and taking exams. This prohibition was declared as official government policy by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in April 2015, just before schools re-opened following the Ebola crisis. The exclusion of pregnant girls from mainstream education and from sitting exams pre-dates the outbreak of Ebola; however, the official declaration of the ban when schools re-opened has sparked renewed debate and concern about this issue in Sierra Leone.
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone described the ban as discriminatory, stigmatizing and likely to worsen the marginalization of pregnant girls and women. . . .
While it seems some 3,000 of those remaining 5,000 have now been re-admitted to schools, an additional approximately 2,000 girls (largely victims of sexual attacks) are still being shunted out of mainstream schooling in Sierra Leone.
From a mid August 2016 report, on this unfolding tragedy, and ongoing crisis:
. . .Teenage pregnancy has long been a problem, but the recent Ebola outbreak saw focus groups comprising of 1,193 children in total report a 47 percent jump in teen pregnancies, according to Save The Children, which trains nurses like Fullah to properly administer contraception and provide vital maternal healthcare services.
The actual reason for the increase in teen pregnancy is a source of contention among the government, NGOs, community leaders, and the girls themselves. But everyone agrees it is a bad thing indeed.
In Freetown, Save the Children health program officer Marget Tucker told Broadly, “During Ebola, schools were closed down, and this put girls at greater risk of teenage pregnancy.” Though reliable data in Sierra Leone is difficult to obtain, Tucker estimates that around 20,000 teenage girls became mothers during the Ebola crisis, with poorer girls and those with lower levels of education being more vulnerable to becoming pregnant. . . .
[As many of the girls’ mothers and fathers died of ebola, they were left without normal networks of protectors, and stable sources of food and clothing.] “Some of them had to etch out some means of survival and the only means of survival that they resorted to—most of them—was to have sex. Transactional sex, to be specific. . . .”
While there are micro-level financial issues at play here as well (raising the funds to pay school-books fees, etc.), we as members of the UNESCO, and as a nation able to influence WHO policy — ought to use the power of international aid policies (the purse strings), to more strongly encourage President Koroma to admit all school age pregnant girls to mainstream schooling. Goodnight then, to all here who might “burn at a distance, rather than freeze nearby. . . .” we will smile broadly, just the same — as it will all be well, in time.