WATCH: Africa's pregnant girls, young mothers 'barred from school'

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Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In the 44-page report, HRW examined national laws, policies, and practices that blocked or supported pregnant girls' and adolescent mothers' right to primary and secondary education in all African Union (AU) member countries.

"In many African countries, pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are forced out of school and denied their right to education.

"While some progress has been made, the African Union needs to work closely with all its member countries to ensure that no girl is denied her right to an education because she becomes pregnant," Elin Martínez, children's rights researcher at HRW was quoted as saying in the report.

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According to Unicef, the highest adolescent birth rates were found within Africa, with over 200 births per 1 000 girls aged 15-19, where 45% of women between the ages of 20-24 were reported to have given birth for the first time by the age of 18 already.

Recent advances have been made through commitments by 26 African countries to ensure that the rights of pregnant girls and mothers to attend schools were being upheld. However, these laws and policies were not always guaranteed to be monitored and carried out, said HRW.

Countries like Gabon and Zambia supported adolescent mothers returning to school through adoptive measurements such as free primary and secondary education, accommodated breast-feeding times, flexible school shifts, and nearby nurseries.

At least 24 African countries, mostly found in northern Africa, lacked laws and policies protecting pregnant girl's and mother's right to education.

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Countries like Morocco and Sudan still made use of "morality laws" which allowed them to criminally charge adolescent girls with adultery, indecency, or extra-marital sex.

Whereas Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone and Tanzania still banned girls from attending school when they got pregnant or became mothers.

HRW said that the 2018 call by the AU on member countries to "Leave No Child Behind for Africa's Development" should ensure that it involved pregnant girls and adolescent mothers in the agenda.

"Punishing pregnant girls by throwing them out of school will not end teen pregnancies. Many African countries will fail in their promise to leave no child behind if they exclude girls who are pregnant or married, but the whole continent will benefit when pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are allowed back in schools," said Martínez.

Support of pregnant mothers through comprehensive approaches should be given by all countries, while also addressing the root causes of early unplanned pregnancies through sexual and reproductive health services, she said.

Read more on:    africa  |  women's rights

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