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WHY PREGNANT GIRLS LOSE OUT

By Vision Reporter

Added 18th November 2008 03:00 AM

AT 19, Alice Namataka (not real name) should be in A’level in Mbale district, eastern Uganda. However, three years ago she was suspended from school because she was pregnant. Today, she is in P7 with 12-year-olds.

AT 19, Alice Namataka (not real name) should be in A’level in Mbale district, eastern Uganda. However, three years ago she was suspended from school because she was pregnant. Today, she is in P7 with 12-year-olds.

BY F. WOMAKUYU

AT 19, Alice Namataka (not real name) should be in A’level in Mbale district, eastern Uganda. However, three years ago she was suspended from school because she was pregnant. Today, she is in P7 with 12-year-olds.

“The boy who was responsible denied that he even knew my name!” Namataka says. Her son, aged three, lives with his grandmother.

“My classmates and teachers in my former school laughed at me when I went back.” So her mother took her to another school. Her new classmates do not know she is a mother.

In July, Fatuma Nansamba, 19, in S.6 at Kibibi Secondary School, Mpigi, was asked to leave school after she became pregnant. After having her baby, she wanted to sit her A’level examinations, but the headmaster refused. It took the intervention of Uganda National Examinations Board secretary (UNEB) Matthew Bukenya for her to sit her exams.

The problem is bigger: 4,728 girls at primary and secondary level leave school annually due to pregnancy, according to 2007 statistics in the education ministry.

The statistics also show that enrolment of boys and girls in primary school is almost equal at 3.78 million and 3.75 million respectively, but this is not reflected in secondary school where only 45% of girls between the ages of 16 and 20 are in school, compared to 55% of boys of the same age.

The ministry of education indicates that in 2007, 437,074 girls were in school compared to 517,254 boys.

Yusuf Nsubuga, the commissioner for secondary education said pregnancy, along with early marriage, poverty and preferential treatment of boys are the major factors in the high dropout rate for girls.

In a study of strategies for attracting and keeping African girls in school, World Bank researcher Eileen Kane reported in 2004 that girls’ enrolment and dropout rates are affected by circumstances such as the distance to school, sanitary facilities, school security and lunch programmes.

The statistics show that while many boys drop out of school in P.1-P.5, girls are likely to leave in P.6-P.8.

In a society where the youth engage in sex as early as 14 years, by the age of 15, 30% of women have had sexual intercourse and by 18, the proportion increases to 72%, according to the 2003 Population and Census report.

Discrimination by teachers and parents are reported as two main reasons teenage mothers drop out of school. Nineteen-year-old Lydia Nadunga left school when she became pregnant in S.1.

“My classmates are at university. I, too, could have been at university because I was among the brightest in my class,” Nadunga said.

After the birth of her child, Nadunga wanted to resume her studies, but her parents wouldn’t hear of it; instead they blamed her for wasting their money. “My father reminds me that I owe him the fees he paid,” she said.

Designing programmes to reach the out-of-school population and keep girls in school may be difficult for the education sector.

The education ministry has no policy on school girls who become pregnant. The only gender policy stipulated targets access and equity. It emphasises teaching of reproductive health and provision of separate sanitation facilities for girls like latrines and bathrooms.

The ministry says getting pregnant at school is indiscipline. “The offence is punishable by expulsion,” Nsubuga said. “But personally, you can handle it by allowing the student to sit her exams if she is in a candidate class. For other cases, the student should enrol in another school after delivery.”

Many of the girls sent home never return to school due to social biases. “It has been held over the years by various communities that continuity in education for a girl is terminated at the altar of pregnancy,” Dr. Emanuel Otaala, the minister of state for primary healthcare says.

“Most girls lack policy support to challenge the expulsion. They may be too shy to re-join their classmates,” says MP Elias Lukwago.

In contrast Kenya has a gender and education policy emphasising re-admission of teenage mothers and establishment of centres where young mothers continue with formal education while breast-feeding.

“A school is a place for young people to study and institutions may not be able to help young mothers,” said Prof. Senteza Kajubi, the Chancellor of Nkumba University.

Some people argue that having a policy would have a multiplier effect. “We should not declare schools pregnancy theatres as this will set a bad precedent. The girl should return the following year when she has learnt her lesson,” says Fagil Mandy, an education consultant.

Lukwago disagrees: “Pregnancy should not be encouraged in schools. But it is not a crime to be pregnant and schools should permit such girls to continue with their studies. When you send the girl away, you ruin her future and that of the baby.”

Otaala agrees, saying the children of women with a higher education are more likely to survive infancy.

“Better-educated women have a greater say in decisions like when and whom they marry and to use family planning and have only children they can provide for,” he adds.

Kajubi adds that to have better mothers, all stakeholders should provide and reorient health education. This is to encourage young people to postpone sex. And when the youth become sexually active, they should be given information on how to prevent pregnancy, STDs and HIV/AIDS.

But with the policy on pregnant girls lacking, thousands of young mothers like Nansamba can only stay at school at the mercy of education officials. Their education is like a privilege and not a right.

WHY PREGNANT GIRLS LOSE OUT

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