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Concern welcomes ‘brave’ ruling allowing pregnant girls attend school in Sierra Leone
Irish international aid agency Concern Worldwide has welcomed Sierra Leone’s decision to overrule the banning of pregnant girls attending school.
The long-standing ban became more strictly enforced as schools reopened after the Ebola crisis in 2015, which led to a reported increase in teenage pregnancies. Concern and several other humanitarian organisations and Government aid programmes, including Irish Aid and DFID, lobbied for the remove the discriminatory law.
In 2015, Concern also called on the Government of Sierra Leone to allow pregnant girls to have equal access to education by putting certain provisions in place. These include supports to strengthen reporting, referral and support systems in schools and communities so that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers can receive the physical and emotional care they need, as well as the means to report acts of violence against them. It also stated that both boys and girls should be provided with comprehensive and consistent HIV and AIDS, sexual and reproductive health education.
There is still a stigma regarding teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone, but reversing this ban will prove to be a massive benefit to society, according to Concern Worldwide's Senior Education Advisor Amy Folan.
"This move will give all girls an opportunity to develop and prove that having a child will not end their lives and their opportunities. It’s such a significant step forward for Sierra Leone and a very brave thing for the Government to be prioritising,” she said.
“If pregnant girls can still access school, they can still benefit from all the possibilities obtainable with a good education and there are so many benefits. Not just for the girls themselves, but for society overall."
A rising challenge
Despite this news, Sierra Leone has closed schools this week in a bid to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. President Julius Maada Bio has also imposed a year-long state of emergency to deal with the crisis.
Speaking last week, newly appointed Education Minister David Moinina Sengeh said a new policy on school attendance will be inclusive of all people.
“At a time of uncertainty, when schools are closing for what seems like an indefinite time for COVID-19, Sierra Leone is learning from its experience during the Ebola crisis,” he said.
Concern’s teams are preparing to assist communities in the battle against COVID-19, amid growing fears of the substantial human impact the arrival of the virus could have as it continues to spread.
“We can see how COVID-19 is stretching the capacity of health systems in some of the world’s richest countries, therefore we are deeply concerned about the impact it could have in places where conflict and chronic poverty have left hospitals and clinics decimated,” Concern Worldwide CEO Dominic MacSorley said.
Concern is currently working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of over 3,900 staff in the 23 countries where it operates and ensuring they can continue to deliver programmes to their fullest extent possible in the event of the virus spreading.
For media queries contact Jason Kennedy, Media Relations Officer, Concern Worldwide, at firstname.lastname@example.org