It could be recalled that after a long drawn wrangling, side by side with series of advocacy from organizations including Girls Plus, End Sexual Violence and Equality Now, towards the lifting of the ban against pregnant girls attending school in Sierra Leone the ban was ultimately lifted and the targeted beneficiaries were finally given the opportunity to do so.
Indisputably, the ban placed the rights of thousands of girls to attain or pursue education under threat. The ban was formally issued in April 2015 during the Ebola crisis. Due to Ebola, there was a sharp increase in the number of teenage pregnancies in the country.
The sudden transition materialized on the 12th December 2019 when the sub-regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS), Community Court of Justice, ruled that the ban should be revoked.
It was revealed that the case challenging the ban was brought up by a Sierra Leonean NGO, WAVES, in partnership with Equality Now, the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) and Amnesty International intervening as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”).
After the landmark judgment, the Government of Sierra Leone, through the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education issued a statement announcing that the 2010 Government decision preventing pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams has been overturned with immediate effect.
According to the Government, it should be replaced by two new policies focused on the ‘Radical Inclusion’ and ‘Comprehensive Safety’ of all children in the education system.
Two years now after the ruling the questions arises: What have been the impact of that decision and how such have impacted on girls?
This medium was among other media houses in the country that undertook a study on the lifting of the ban. The study was done within the Southern Region of Sierra Leone.
During the study tour, this medium among others, had the opportunity to talk to stakeholders, teachers, mentors, teen mothers, adolescent girls and parents.
Speaking to this medium during the study, the Executive Director of WAVES, Hannah Yambasu said that the case challenging the ban was brought to the regional Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice, WAVES in partnership with Equality Now and other organizations.
She added that as an organization they were very happy that the Government of Sierra Leone, through the Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, issued a statement announcing that the 2010 Government decision preventing pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams has been overturned with immediate effect which she described as a move that was taken in the right direction.
Hannah Yambasu maintained that their intervention has brought a lot of changes in communities and that through their advocacy most people are now bold to report cases of Gender Based Violence, sexual assault and lot more, furthering that their work in communities is yielding dividends further divulging how they are also working alongside the Family Support Unit (FSU) on matters of gender-based violence and assault on women.
She said that as part of their efforts towards addressing issues affecting girls in schools and communities, WAVES, with support from Equality Now, established Safe Spaces in schools and communities and that the project is implemented in Bo, Kenema and the Western Area.
The Executive Director stated that the Safe Spaces grooms girl’s advocates who then serve as ambassadors to influence their peers on sexual gender based violence issues and others affecting girls in the country.
Commenting on behalf of teen mothers, 15 years old Janet Blackie,(Not her real Name), a Class Six Pupil of the Seventh Day Adventist Primary School (SDA) of Negbema, Nyawa Lenge Chiefdom in Bo District, who is one of the beneficiaries of the lifting of the ban said she is grateful for being given the opportunity to go back to school.
She was among the many pupils who sat to this year’s National Primary School Examination in the country. Janet gave birth some four months ago before taking the NPSE Examinations which took place on the 7th May, 2022.
Janet Blackie informed this medium that she was pregnant but was still going to school and that it has not been easy for her due to provocation by her friends and some community residents.
She intimated that despite that she did not relent as there were organizations like WAVES who always visited the community and school to check on her and other girls who were in similar situations.
Janet revealed that she would not have been able to continue her schooling if the ban on pregnant school girls was not lifted. She also stated that WAVES, as an organization, created what is known as a Safe Space for girls where they were studying and learning a number of things also disclosing how it was also meant for them to stay away from activities that will become barriers to their educational pursuits and wellbeing.
Janet is now a suckling teen mother who is awaiting her NPSE result that is due later this year. She now has time to care for her baby during this period and while waiting, this teen mother still goes to the safe space on a daily basis as part of preparation for her next challenge after the NPSE results would have been released.
She is among pupils that advocate and speak out on issues affecting girls in her community. She concluded by calling on her peers that regardless of the fact that the ban on pregnant girls has been lifted but as children they must stay away from sexual activities while going to school as such will disturb their schooling.
On her part, one of WAVES’ Mentors of the Safe Spaces, Theresa Momoh, who also doubles as a teacher of the Ahmadiyya Primary School in Blama, Small Bo in Kenema District, commended WAVES from the establishment of the safe spaces in schools which she said has created a lot of impact in that part of the country.
She maintained that her role as a mentor is to discuss with girls in schools issues like teenage pregnancy, sexual violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and that through the safe space many girls are now aware about those issues.
Theresa Momoh pointed out that they also teach them about menstruation which she said is key for the simple fact that most children will be seeing their period for the first time and do not understand how to deal with it.
The Chief Superintendent of Police at the Family Support Unit (FSU) in Bo, Southern Sierra Leone, Fatmata Susan Kamara, who also spoke to this medium revealed that since the lifting of the ban on pregnant girls and through the interventions of WAVES in the district, reports about sexual and gender based violence related issues have been minimized.
The Chief Superintendent said most children get involved into sexual activities during the holidays but with engagements from NGOs like WAVES with its safe spaces in these schools and communities the issue of teenage pregnancy has been mitigated in the district.
On their part, the Programme Officer – End Sexual Violence, Equality Now, Jean Paul Murunga said that Equality Now uses the power of the law to bring lasting change for girls and they do such by advocating for repeal of discriminatory laws, enactment of just laws and implementation of the just laws to protect all women and girls from violence and discrimination.
Jean Paul furthered that they are happy that the Government of Sierra Leone has continued to support girls’ education after lifting of the discriminatory ban but said, however, they are still working with the Government and other key stakeholders to ensure girls are safe in schools and in communities.
“Until that is fully achieved we shall never relent,” Jean Paul Murunga assured.