Last spring, with the Ebola outbreak under control, students in Sierra Leone returned to school after a months-long hiatus. But absent from the classrooms were several thousand adolescent girls. A law that went into effect in April bars “visibly pregnant” students from school.
The consequences of this new law have been heartbreaking, says Esther Major, who researches economic, social and cultural rights at Amnesty International. “A 12-year-old girl I interviewed was five months pregnant. She was raped — and my heart broke,” Major recalls. “And she told me of her hopes and dreams to help people in the future but now she feels she won’t be able to do that.”
Major co-authored a report Amnesty published Friday titled “Shamed and Blamed: Pregnant girls’ rights at risk in Sierra Leone.” We asked her to tell us more about the law and its effects.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why is Sierra Leone banning pregnant students?
This official ban occurred in April, but we know that the practice had gone on informally for a long time.
Moijueh Kaikai, the minister of social welfare, told us that he could not have pregnant girls with normal girls because it’ll encourage other girls in the class to get pregnant. He said, “During the Ebola outbreak children were given clear instructions: Do not touch … These girls could not even comply with basic rules and there must be consequences for their actions.”