S Leone city offers 'virgin scholarships'
Sierra Leone - A city in Sierra Leone is offering a five-year scholarship to girls who keep their virginity until they complete university.
The aim is to cut teenage pregnancies by ensuring "that at least 80% of school going girls keep their virginity until they finish their educational life", said Mathew Margao, council chairman in southern city of Bo.
"The council will hire the services of female medical personnel who would prove the authenticity of the girls' virginity," Margao told AFP.
But the plan has run into trouble from parents and civil rights groups.
Abibatu Mansaray, spokesperson for local NGO Women's Rights, said the move "borders on the violation of the girls' human rights. I dont think it is the right way to draw attention to the issue of teenage pregnancy".
"I cannot see myself allowing people to examine my daughter because of a scholarship," said Aminata Lahai, a single parent. "I think other methods like rapid sensitisation should be an alternative."
Margao said however that the plan had a dual benefit. "Such a method will not only eradicate the menace of teenage pregnancy but will increase the number of educated females in the country."
He said the girls who maintained their virginity would be sponsored by his council up through tertiary or university level. "If we succeed, I am sure other councils will follow our example."
The offer comes against a background of rising teenage pregnancy and abortion figures, according to the social welfare ministry.
Ministry researcher Samuel Keitell said that from January to September this year there were 500 recorded pregnancies of secondary school girls in the eastern mining district of Kono alone.
"If the trend continues, there would be other districts recording higher figures by the end of the year," he said.