Sierra Leone is under pressure to revoke its ban on pregnant female students after an African regional court ruled that the decision was unlawful.
The West African regional bloc Ecowas said the government of Sierra Leone’s decision to place such a ban on pregnant girls from school violates human rights charter of Africa.
The court is asking the country to revoke the ban immediately but it is not clear if Sierra Leone will adhere to the ruling.
Often West African countries have ignored rulings from the ECOWAS court and all eyes will now be on Sierra Leone to see if this time round the court’s ruling will be respected.
Rights group, Equality Now and partners sued the government over the pregnancy ban at the ECOWAS court in 2018.
Sierra Leone insisted last year that pregnant girls will still not be allowed in school despite a policy to make education free for all.
Government defends ban
School girls who get pregnant while in school were also banned from writing exams. That was seen as a setback to the government’s own new educational reforms.
Sierra Leone introduced the ban on pregnant girls in 2015. It was a move to deal with teenage pregnancies following a rise in rape, abuse and poverty during the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
Rights activists however said the law rather increased shame and stigma for pregnant girls.
The hope many had that the then new government led by President Julius Maada Bio will change the policy was dashed.
An education ministry spokesperson last year told Reuters that pregnant girls “are not allowed to go to mainstream schooling. It still remains a policy.”
He justified the decision saying “You would not want to overload a pregnant person when they probably don’t even want to be there.”
Countries like Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea also have similar bans and the latest ruling could send a message to such countries.