Should pregnant girls be kept in school?
Early pregnancies amongst girls of school-going age are a problem of serious proportions in Uganda, affecting nearly 300 000 girls annually. (New Vision) Most girls who find themselves in this situation face many barriers to resuming their schooling after having given birth. In fact, it was established that pregnancy accounts for 34% of the overall dropout rate in the country.
In light of these revealing statistics, a highly disputed issue arises: Should pregnant girls be allowed to stay in school during their pregnancies and afterwards? According to an article featured in the June 17th New Vision newspaper, “While proponents say it gives girls a second chance in life, opponents argue that it could be a bad influence to other girls”
I believe we should first address the former claim, that giving pregnant girls the opportunity to complete their education is vital. The motion for universal primary and secondary education clearly implies that every Ugandan is entitled to an education in a non-discriminatory environment. How can excluding the entire demographic of pregnant girls from what is considered a basic human right be justified, therefore? Schooling allows these young women to acquire important life skills and tools necessary for them to sustain themselves as well as an additional human being without requiring any external help. This may help reduce the instance of child marriages precipitated by the fact that women believe they need financial support from a husband to raise a child.
Receiving an education also allows pregnant girls to qualify for careers with the potential of earning greater revenue in today’s economy, such as jobs in the field of information and communication technologies. It is estimated that 90% of formal employment across all sectors requires ICT skills and knowledge; denying girls the opportunity to obtain these skills thus contributes to narrowing the scope of the job market for these individuals. The Women of Uganda Network strongly believes in the use of technology as a tool for empowerment and sustainable development: as such, the organization encourages girls to gain these abilities through the various trainings that we conduct or through schooling. Therefore, WOUGNET advocates that pregnant young women not be deprived of the right to learn.
The belief that the presence of a pregnant girl in school would come to have a negative influence on other classmates remains to be addressed. I would like to oppose this statement by proposing that by being exposed to a girl in such a situation, students would instead be discouraged from early pregnancies. As stated by head teacher Laurence Lumbuye in New Vision, “Show me one girl who sees a pregnant girl and says: I want to get pregnant, too.” Accordingly, the struggle that pregnant girls undergo in balancing their studies and personal lives while managing their health is quite visible to all that surround them and may act to others as a warning of the dangers of unprotected sex.
Moreover, what kind of message are we sending by singling out pregnant girls and inflicting punishment upon them? Does it not take two to make a child? It is insensible to only punish females for having engaged in unprotected sex with males, who were equally as aware of the potential risks. Fighting the inequality that manifests itself in the treatment of women is one of WOUGNET’s main guiding principles. The organization strongly believes that in order for Uganda to achieve gender equality, gender-sensitive policies must first be implemented at an early age such that this generation can carry these into the future of our country.
Beyond all this, the question arises as to whether schooling should be facilitated to accommodate the unique needs of pregnant girls. Many schools offer peer counselors and support groups for student-mothers such that they may learn from each other’s experiences and give each other strength through solidarity. Going forward, if we are to smoothly integrate pregnant girls into the schooling system, such initiatives must be prioritized.