One of the fundamental human rights is the right to education. As such no one should deny or deprive a child the right to education on no grounds whatsoever, be it on gender, race, faith or social status.
However my main concern in this write up is the justification for allowing pregnant teen girls to stay in the classroom with their colleagues.
I am an advocate for "the Girl Child Education" and strongly believe that "the world will be a heaven on earth even if only 50% of women are educated in developing countries."
This conviction is also emphasized by one of the illustrious sons of our land, Dr. Kweggir Aggrey who once said, "if you educated a man you educate an individual but if you educate a woman you educate a nation," thereby imploring us all to strive hard in making the education of girls our topmost priority.
Unfortunately I am of the opinion that keeping pregnant girls in the classroom will cause more harm than good to this noble cause of girl child education.
This is because the lifestyles of our young girls nowadays leaves much to be desired, though this could be attributed to several factors for which reason I am of the conviction that these causal factors must be looked at critically and concrete measures put in place to prevent these teenage girls from becoming pregnant whilst in school rather than embracing them in the schools whilst pregnant. This is the position of our organization, JS FUND FOR HOPE in Ghana.
I strongly recommend supporting these girls to continue their education after delivery rather than letting them in with the pregnancy so as not to waste the investment made in their education for a better future. This position has been determined by the following reasons:
- Allowing pregnant girls in school will send a dangerous signal to the other girls since they will be reassured that they will also be permitted to stay in school whilst pregnant. This will in turn motivate them or serve as an encouragement to them to indulge in sexual activities with impunity.
- The physical and psychological changes that will occur as a result of the pregnancy such as the protruding belly, underweight, unusual anger, lack of concentration, frequent sleeping and the selective eating habits will negatively affect their academic performance. The stress and lack of concentration in the classroom will result in the poor performance in class exercises and during examinations.
- Pregnant school girls are usually truants. They are not regular at school. They come to school late and had to leave early to attend to their health needs or due to hunger. Even when they are present in school, they spend most of the time sleeping in class.
- Pregnant school girls cannot participate in any co-curricular activities such as sports, choral, dance, drama, marching, tidying up the classroom and school compound. They usually isolate themselves from school gatherings in order to avoid intimidation by their colleagues especially the boys. On the other way round, they are sometimes ostracized by their school mates.
- Pregnant school girls do not do their homework and hardly write most of the examination papers either during internal or external examinations such as the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE). This condition is later used for the justification of their poor examination grades.
The above points amply prove that pregnant school girls cannot participate meaningfully in the teaching and learning process in the school. Then why should they be allowed to stay in school in the first place? The motive behind their admission in school is already defeated!
I will only hold brief for girls who have become pregnant as a result of sexual violence such as rape, to be allowed to continue their education because they became pregnant against their wish. But cases in this category too are insignificant, about 5% and could therefore be even ignored!
Majority of the pregnant cases (90%) involving school girls are as a result of constant deliberate engagement in sexual activities.
However let me state emphatically here that 80% of these cases are the direct result of lack of parental control which could also be attributed to other negative social factors such as poverty, illiteracy and ignorance. It is the elimination or the solution of these social vices that I would wish the communities, government institutions and non-governmental organizations to collaborate on.
You will be surprised to know that most of the parents in our rural communities will not provide basic learning materials such as school uniforms, note books, exercise books, pens and pencils, drawing boards, supplementary readers, slates etc. to their children or wards with the flimsy excuse that government states that education is free. Meanwhile the government does not provide these items, even if they do it is woefully inadequate and once in a lifetime. Most of these children especially the girls have no other option than to sleep with boys or men to earn some money in order to acquire some of these requisite school items.
It might also interest you to know that some girls (13-16 yrs) in basic schools had to sleep with boys or men just to be able to pay their terminal examination printing fee of five Ghana cedis (GHC 5.00)! And if they cannot easily pay the printing fee for terminal internal examinations , what happens when it come to the payment of the registration fee for the final external examination at the Junior high school level, the Basic Education Certificate Examinations? God save their souls!
In most instances, parents who do not provide the needs of their children due to poverty, automatically lose control over their children. This condition paves the way for these young adolescents to have their free will. Most of them indulge in all manner of activities in order to fend for themselves. The girls especially have no other option than to rely on the "pittance" they receive from boys and men, after having sex with them, for their existence. These explain their heavy presence at all wake-keepings for funerals, vigil for religious programs and traditional festivals, night parties and all other social events which hitherto were intended for adults.
I wish to crave on the indulgence of all and sundry to rather focus on finding lasting solutions to the challenges facing girls which result in the early pregnancies. Here are some few suggestions:
- State institutions in collaboration with the district assemblies and other stakeholders must draft policies and enact laws that will prosecute irresponsible parents who do not send their children of school going age to school.
- These policies or by-laws must include punitive measures to be meted out to irresponsible parents and guardians who shy away from their parental roles especially the fathers. This is because when it comes to the upbringing of these children including the girls, this onerous mantle falls on the mothers but when it comes to taking decisions on giving out these girls into early marriage or giving them out to stay with "distant relatives" (child trafficking in disguise), the mothers have no say in these decisions.
- Men and boys who impregnate school girls must be made to face the full rigours of the law.
- The Ministry of Education must as a matter of policy provide the needed teaching and learning materials regularly at the beginning of each academic year and in the right quantities for distribution to basic schools especially those located in rural areas where the pupils lack these essential materials most.
- More professional guidance and counselling coordinators must be trained and posted to basic schools in the rural areas to offer professional guidance and counseling services to the children.
- Sex education must be encouraged and be included in the curriculum of basic schools.
- Reproductive health services centers should be established within rural communities. Their services should be made affordable or free of charge to increase patronage. This will drastically reduce the high post- abortion mortality rate and high teenage pregnancy rate.
- The use of smart phones by teenage girls must be strictly prohibited in basic schools and in the communities. This is because the main essence of using mobile phones by girls, both in school and out of school, is for dating boys and men and watching pornographic materials.
- Schools, religious bodies and non-governmental agencies must implement programs which will engage pupils both boys and girls in meaningful activities during their past times. This will take their minds off the immoral programs and activities on the numerous social media.
- All efforts must be made to enroll the girl child in school. Their basic needs must be adequately provided by their parents, philanthropists and donor agencies whose focus of activities is on the welfare of women and girls.
In conclusion I wish to emphasis once again that let us all put our hands on deck to resolve the myriad of challenges which confront the rural child especially the girl child. We should all collaborate to tackle the factors which result in the early pregnancies. Let us keep the pregnant girls out of the classroom and rather support them to continue their education after delivery so as to achieve the expected goals for the girl child education program rather than accommodating them in the classroom in order to discourage the others from doing same. If not, we might end up abusing the right to education of the girl child.
By: WILLIAM KUDZO GATI
CEO-JS FUND FOR HOPE