Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Zambian government of failing to enforce a law that protects the right of young mothers to be educated.
Zambia in 1997 enacted a re-entry policy that allowed pregnant girls to return to school after giving birth.
“It was a positive step toward upholding girls’ basic right to education, expanding their future job options, and contributing to the country’s economic progress. But many young mothers are still dropping out of school, because the government isn’t putting the policy into practice,” HRW’s Senior Coordinator for Children’s Rights Susan Raqib, wrote in a piece titled: “Zambia Should Keep Young Mothers in School – Don’t let Pregnancy Be a Barrier to Education.”
She narrated meeting with local groups in Lusaka, one advocate according to her bemoaned the lack of government commitment to implementing the policy to the fullest.
Some of the issues surrounding the poor implementation included school officials are not trained on the policy guidelines and some have never even seen a copy of the policy.Government does not monitor school compliance and there are no consequences if they do not respect girls’ right to be in school.
Other issues include adolescent mothers lack the mental health and logistical support the policy requires, such as assistance with paperwork for school leave and that many encounter stigma and ridicule in school while some faith-based schools, including those with state funding, often force girls who become mothers to transfer to other schools, deeming them a “bad influence.”
Zambia’s child marriage rates are among the highest in the world, hence a national strategy to address the issue.
28 percent of girls and young women aged 15 to 19 in Zambia are mothers or have been pregnant.That is more than 275,000 teenagers.
In addition to this staggering rate of adolescent pregnancy, only 50 percent of girls who become pregnant go back to school.
Human Rights Watch says the government should direct all schools to respect the policy, and provide guidance on pragmatic ways schools can support young mothers.It says government should make sure that school staff know about and comply with the policy guidelines, and that they are accountable if they don’t.
“Trained counselors should meaningfully support pregnant girls and adolescent mothers and help them return to school. Adequately trained teachers should provide education for all students about sexuality and reproductive health”
“It has been more than 20 years since the Zambian government promised that young mothers could return to school. The government shouldn’t delay any longer making sure that girls can complete their education, regardless of pregnancy or motherhood,” she said.
Kenya developed a school re-entry strategy in 1994 but records show that it faces the same hurdles as does Zambia.
Over in Tanzania, there is a clear government policy that bars girls from returning to school after giving birth.
In Sierra Leone, special schools were established for such girls whiles activist dragged government to a regional court over the law banning girls from school post-birth.