Teenage pregnancies and the right to education

Teenage pregnancies and the right to education

One year at a school that I will not mention, a girl fell pregnant. The teachers and the principal knew about the pregnancy, no one complained even though the school was owned by the church. The young girl was doing COSC. She got all the support from the school including ferrying her from the hospital to sit for her exams. The following year at the same school, another girl got pregnant and she was expelled.

When the teachers asked the deputy principal why she expelled the girl she reasoned that they cannot allow a pregnant girl to attend a school owned by the church. When the teachers reminded her of the way she handled the case of the girl in COSC the previous year, she reasoned that as a school they could not afford to expel that girl as she was intelligent and likely to put the school on the map by giving them good results, as such her expulsion would have interfered with her studies.

The above story is one of the cases that shows that teenage pregnancy in schools is real. However, it also demonstrates the favouritism that schools can have when dealing with cases of teenage pregnancy. Apart from the preceding story, I felt the need of writing about teenage pregnancy when I heard that there are some schools that force girls to take a pregnancy test, in some cases it is done quarterly.

We should understand that teenage pregnancy is not just a health hazard to the girls, but it is also a social and economic problem. It brings shame to the girl and her family. In some cases girls opt for illegal abortions. The police spokesperson in his weekly reports has already lamented over what he called the alarming rate of illegal abortions in the country. It is at the dawn of this discovery by the police that we see schools embarking on a witch-hunt for pregnant girls in their schools with the sole purpose of expelling them.

This could be one of the driving forces in illicit abortions as the teenagers are trying to secure their places in schools that have become hostile to them. There is need to point out that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Lesotho is a signatory, stipulate in Article 16(2) that “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.”

By subjecting the girls to a compulsory pregnancy test, the schools are in conflict with this article of the Convention on The Rights of the Child, and this means pregnancy testing is no longer just a disciplinary measure but it is now a violation of the rights of the child. In essence pregnancy testing has now become a human rights issue and this calls for those that protect human right to take action. This is no longer a case of “this is a church school and we do not want pregnant girls,” it is now a case of protecting the honour and dignity of the child.

In addition, the schools that expel pregnant girls are also going against the provisions of the Education Act of 2010, Section 4(2) (c) which clearly stipulates that “The Minister, Principal Secretary, Teaching Service Commission, proprietors of schools, teachers and school boards shall promote the education of the people of Lesotho and in particular-ensure that the learner is free from any form of discrimination in accessing education and is availed all education opportunity provided.”

In essence, this provision is against the practice of those schools that use pregnancy as an excuse to strip girls of the education that they are rightly entitled to. It is also surprising that this discrimination is only directed to the girl child as boys that have impregnated girls are never expelled from schools. In fact I have never heard of a school that tests whether boys have impregnated girls or not.

Also those who test pregnancy on girls do not investigate the root cause of the pregnancy as in some cases girls become pregnant as a case of abuse that they were too scared to report. As such expelling a pregnant girl without getting into the merits of how she was impregnated is the continuation of the abuse and in this case it is being perpetrated by the people that are supposed to be protecting them.

It is thus imperative that the schools follow the legislation and stop trampling on the rights of the girl child. There is also an urgent need for the Ministry of Education and Training to develop and implement the schools pregnancy policy so that there is uniformity in how schools address issues of pregnancy. There is also need to strengthen the teaching of Life Skills so that we curb pregnancies. Expelling pregnant girls from schools will not alleviate the problem of teenage pregnancy. Rather it is likely to push the girls to wrong choices such as illicit abortions as I have already indicated.

The Ministry of Education and Training should try and collaborate with the Ministry of Health, through its programme of adolescent corners to create awareness on the services that they provide and how they can benefit the adolescent boys and girls. If parents, the churches and the government speak with one voice against the abuse perpetrated against girls in schools their rights will be respected and their education will not be hampered in any way.

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