At 17, Fatmata is pregnant with her second child. She was only 15 when she gave birth to her first child. She and her cousin were forced to leave school when their pregnancy became too visible.
A rule imposed in Sierra Leone by the government, which considers that these girls show the bad example.
“I was unhappy because I could not see my friends or the girls in my village at school, but I was pregnant, and then I had to take care of my child, I would have preferred something else, but I did not have a choice,” Fatmata said.
In this small country in West Africa, one in three pregnant persons is a teenager. In response to international pressure related to these controversial exclusion measures, the government has been forced to open special classes for pregnant girls.
They can continue their education, following a very light program, and away from other adolescents. But, young fathers are spared.
Brima Turay, press secretary, at the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Education said “it’s counterproductive to isolate young boys just because they impregnate a girl. Boys do not bear children, but girls yes, and it shows, that’s the big difference.”
The government claims that this initiative is a success: 5,000 of the 14,000 girls enrolled in these special schools eventually returned to traditional school after pregnancy. But nearly two-thirds of them remain permanently excluded from the education system.
“It is not because these girls are pregnant that their education has to stop. That’s very clear, and we told the Minister of Education: we want these girls to be educated, not discriminated against, but the government does not allow that,” Wongani Taulo, in charge of education for UNICEF noted.
Sex education does not exist in Sierra Leone. And even temporary solutions are under threat: the government says it does not have enough money to continue funding these courses.
At the risk of condemning thousands of teenagers to drop out of school completely.