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Sierra Leone schools for pregnant students raise questions

Alternative classes have been offered to 'visibly pregnant' girls since country's schools reopened following Ebola crisis.

A government programme for separate schools for pregnant students introduced two years ago in Sierra Leone is facing critical scrutiny.

Pregnant students were not allowed to sit in the same class in the West African country as their peers because they are seen as a bad influence.

In April 2015, schools in Sierra Leone reopened after a nine-month break owing to the Ebola crisis. However, "visibly pregnant" girls were banned from returning to school, for fear of negatively affecting "innocent girls", according to the education minister.

The government offered them the option of attending alternative schools with a reduced curriculum.

Now, Amnesty International, the UK-based rights organisation, says denying pregnant girls mainstream education is a violation of their human rights.

"I am the one who should decide whether to go to the alternative or the mainstream school," said 17-year-old Sarah Bassie, an alternative school student.

A third of pregnancies in Sierra Leone are teenage pregnancies, according to official data.

"It [the move] doesn't address any of the root causes of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone," Sabrina Mahtani, an Amnesty International researcher, said.

"It's not addressing the high rates of sexual violence and abusive relationships that girls encounter every day, it's not addressing fact that there's no formal sex education in schools."

However, Sierra Leone's education ministry says the alternative school programme is working.

Out of 14,500 students who attended those schools, 5,000 have gone back to mainstream school after giving birth. 

The ministry says that is progress because the girls would have most probably dropped out altogether because of the shame associated with pregnancy.


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