Pregnant girls to be banned from going to school in Sierra Leone

Pregnant girls to be banned from going to school in Sierra Leone

A West African court is set to examine a ban on pregnant girls going to school in Sierra Leone in a landmark case that campaigners say could strengthen girls’ rights across the region.

Sierra Leone introduced the ban in 2015 after a rise in rape, abuse and poverty during the deadly Ebola outbreak fuelled a spike in teenage pregnancies.

In a case filed by the women’s rights group Equality Now, the law increased the stigma surrounding pregnant girls and set thousands back in their studies.

A spokesman for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court in Nigeria’s capital Abuja confirmed the case had been filed and said it would give Sierra Leone 30 days to respond.

“This is a really big deal,” said Sabrina Mahtani, a researcher at rights group Amnesty International.

“I think this is an important opportunity for the ECOWAS court to set down in case law what the rights and obligations are of states regarding the rights of pregnant girls,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Sierra Leone government said at the time of the ban allowing pregnant girls to go to school would undermine their ability to do well in class, expose them to ridicule and encourage others to get pregnant.

According to Mahtani the issue had also surfaced in other African countries such as Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea, although not all had explicit bans.

An official in Sierra Leone’s education ministry said she was not yet aware that a case had been filed, but that the government would defend their policy.

Speaking to Reuters on phone, Sierra Leone Director of non-formal education said “I am sure they will defend the ban,” said

Sierra Leone’s government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

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