A new Human Rights Watch report says that in nearly one-third of African countries, teenage girls who become pregnant face “significant legal and policy barriers” to continuing their formal education.
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday it examined more than 100 laws and policies concerning education, gender equity, and reproductive health, that are detrimental to the education of teenage mothers.
Adi Radhakrishnan works with the rights group’s children rights division. He says some African laws have pushed young mothers out of school.
“It’s shocking to understand how governments are undermining girls’ education and effectively closing the door on girls’ futures… These are students who are denied their basic rights to education for reasons that have nothing to do with their desire or their ability to learn and they are not supported by their government,” Radhakrishnan said.
Researchers found that at least 10 African countries have no legal means or measures to protect adolescent girls’ education when they are pregnant and become mothers.
Several countries, including Sudan, impose punishments on teenage girls who have sexual relationships outside marriage. For those girls, going to school while pregnant raises suspicion and exposes them to possible criminal prosecution.
Hannibal Uwaifo is the head of the African Bar Association. He says cultural norms are mostly to blame for young mothers not continuing with their education.
“The issues have to do with families, society, and the community. I don’t think there are any specific laws that bars people going back to school,” Uwaifo said. “I think we need to deliberately encourage African girls to return back to school. We need to actively and deliberately campaign that this teenage pregnancy doesn’t mean they should give up schooling or give up formal education otherwise, if there are any laws which are in place saying a teenage mother cannot go back to school, we would like to know about them and work on them.”
On the positive side, Radhakrishnan says 38 countries in Africa have laws that protect the education of pregnant and young mothers.
“Far more countries have positive frameworks than countries lack them or have discriminatory measures. We have seen students excluded because teachers do not know whether the positive law exists, or parents don’t know there are great lessons to be learned … countries across Africa draw positive practices from their neighbors and develop useful guidelines that make sure that all girls — regardless of pregnancy or motherhood status — all girls are able to access education in Africa,” Radhakrishnan said.
Human Rights Watch urges authorities in countries that lack such laws to create legal frameworks that affirm girls’ right to education. The advocacy group also encourages countries that already have laws and policies to fully implement them so young mothers — and their children — can benefit.