«SCHOOL POLICY ON LEARNER PREGNANCY IN NAMIBIA: SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND INFORMATION prepared for the Ministry of Education by Gender Research & Advocacy ...»
SCHOOL POLICY ON LEARNER
PREGNANCY IN NAMIBIA: SUMMARY OF
prepared for the Ministry of Education by
Gender Research & Advocacy Project
Legal Assistance Centre
A school girl makes an unwise decision. Or she is coerced into have sex against her will
by means of physical force, economic pressure or peer pressure. She becomes pregnant.
The father may be a schoolboy, a teacher, a “sugar daddy” or even a relative. What will this mean for her future?
The problem of teenage pregnancy among school girls is a major concern in many countries. Teenage pregnancy has been cited as a constraint in the elimination of gender disparities in education, and in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals of universal primary education and gender equality in education by 2015.
In a continent where the adage “when you educate a woman you educate a nation” holds so true, the repercussions of girls dropping out of school due to pregnancy cannot be underestimated.
The social benefits of educating women include improved agricultural productivity, improved health, reductions in fertility and reductions in infant and child mortality rates.
Children born to educated mothers have a higher chance of enrolling and completing school. Conversely, children of less educated mothers are unlikely to complete school themselves, meaning that they have fewer opportunities to better their lives since they lack the level of education that would allow them to compete successfully for jobs. Thus, the concern about improving the educational rights of girls who become pregnant is based in part on the knowledge that this will affect the fate of their children and future generations.
The last decade or so has seen an introduction of more liberal teenage pregnancy policies in many African countries, including Namibia, as a way of encouraging teenage mothers to stay in school. There is now a need to revisit Namibia’s policy on pregnancy amongst learners, to consider clarifications and improvements which could enhance girls’ ability to exercise their right to education.
2. THE EXTENT OF THE PROBLEMOfficial statistics on pregnancy-related school drop-outs in Namibia for 2007 show that a total of 1465 learners dropped out for this reason – with 96% of them being girls. There are large regional disparities, with pregnancy-related drop-outs being highest by far in Kavango and Ohangwena, followed by the regions of Omusati, Oshikoto, Oshana and Caprivi.
Information from other sources indicates that the official figures may be an underestimate.
Other sources tell us that Namibian women continue to give birth at fairly young ages, although there is some improvement on this point in the post-independence era.
PERCENTAGE OF TEENAGERS WHO HAVE BEGUN CHILDBEARINGincludes both mothers and those pregnant with first child at time of survey
15 1.3 2.2 2.7 16 6.3 5.8 5.5 17 18.7 16.0 13.9 18 36.0 27.6 21.6 19 45.4 39.3 34.7
Source: Namibia Demographic and Health Surveys 1992, 2000, 2006 A good overview of the situation appeared in the first draft of Namibia’s Third National
Despite limited research, it is clear that teenage pregnancy and family demands impact female learners. Indeed, if not for this, the percentage of female learners at Grade 10 (16 year olds) and above could be 2 percent to 3 percent higher. Although the incidence of teenage pregnancies has stabilized, there is still a lack of support and negative attitudes towards girls who fall pregnant. Pregnant teenagers are required to leave school, with few returning. A girl who becomes pregnant is by law supposed to be allowed back to the same public school after one year’s absence.
However, the girls will have to give proof that they have someone responsible looking after their baby, criteria many cannot meet. Although the one-year absent rule is supposed to also apply to schoolboys who impregnate girls, schoolboys are rarely identified and older men seldom face any consequences, although a few schools have taken action.
The discussion of this topic concluded by stating that a new policy on teenage pregnancy would “contribute significantly to the goal of gender equality”.
A draft policy on learner pregnancy was circulated for discussion during 1995 and 1997.
The relevant portions of the 1997 version of the draft policy are reproduced in the box below.
1.1 The Ministry of Basic Education and Culture is alarmed at the number of learners who have been forced to terminate or suspend their education because of pregnancy. Namibia needs skilled and well educated women and men to take part in the development of the country and cannot afford that many young Namibian women must give up their education because of pregnancy. The Ministry is concerned that the community at large appears to accept little responsibility for the circumstances which make this state of affairs possible.
1.2 It must be accepted that the school is only one among the players which share in the role of shaping the behaviour of our youth. The parents in the home should have the first and foremost responsibility of providing the child with the values and example which will guide him or her through childhood and the youthful years. To this the religious community and school add their influence. Family, religious community and school should be supported in these efforts by the wider community.
1.3 Only if this support is provided by the other educational agencies and the society at large can the schools hope to play a successful role in preventing unwanted pregnancies through provision of population and family life education, and in creating an atmosphere in which young people are protected from exploitation.
1.4 In the hope that such support will be forthcoming, the Ministry provides this policy on pregnancy among learners.
1.5 The Ministry believes that sexual activity should be delayed until after a learner has completed formal schooling, so as to allow him/her to pay maximum attention to and derive maximum benefit from the educational programme, and so as to allow sexuality to be practised within a safe and emotionally mature relationship, and would urge parents, church, community and traditional leaders to join forces with the school in providing guidance along these lines as a matter of course. However, it recognises that young people may be pressured into making unwise decisions, in which case the educational system should as fart as possibly support them in their efforts to make the most of their lives.
1.6 The Ministry further believe that learners in formal education should not contemplate marriage until completion of their secondary schooling.
[The following sections contain a Code of Conduct for Teachers, a Code of Conduct for Learners and Sanctions for Sexual Misdemeanors. These do not concern pregnancy specifically.]
5. PREGNANCIES AMONG LEARNERSPregnancies among learners threaten their health and social welfare and the health and welfare of the children born to them. Pregnancies often cause learners to terminate their education, leaving them with very few options of establishing a good life for themselves and their children.
Schools must confront this situation by rendering support to rather than punishing the learners who are to become parents. The learners will need support to continue with their education until the time of confinement and subsequently, while still ensuring the welfare and health of the newborn child.
Schools should also provide information to assist female learners who have become pregnant in obtaining financial support for the child from the male responsible for the pregnancy or his family.
Therefore the following measures will be needed.
5.1 With respect to the girl who becomes pregnant:
5.1.1 There should be at least one member of staff with whom the girl can discuss her situation. It should be known who the teacher is that will be prepared to discuss the matter sympathetically and non-judgmentally, and provide counselling or direct the girl to someone who will be able to provide counselling. Counselling should include developing an understanding of the need for ante-natal care and of the options that are open to her once the infant in born, and also of the sort of support to which she is entitled from the father of the child or his family. Referral to a social worker should be made where this service is available.
5.1.2 The girl should be obliged to reveal the identity of the responsible male. She should be made aware of the consequences both of providing this information and of withholding it, and of the possible consequences of providing false information.
5.1.3 The girl may continue with her education at school, until the time of her confinement or an earlier date on the advice of a medical practitioner or clinic sister. After giving birth, and provided that a social worker is satisfied that the infant will be cared for by a responsible adult the girl shall have the right of readmission to the same school within twelve months of date on which she left school, irrespective of her age. She shall have the option, within the same period, to return to another school, provided that space is available. Should the girl decide not to return to full-time schooling, she should be counselled about the options available to her for continuing her education.
5.1.4 A girl who has left school because of pregnancy may write her end-of-year examinations provided that she can satisfy the School board that her work is up to standard. In effect this will apply to girls who have been attending school for at least the first half of the school year. She may write her examinations along with the other learners, unless the School Board decides to make other arrangements. If she herself is reluctant to write in the same room as other candidates, the school may try to arrange for a separate venue and invigilator, but she or her family will have to carry any additional costs which the school incurs.
5.1.5 These provisions are not intended as a form of punishment. They recognise that by becoming pregnant the girl has taken on other responsibilities which must be given due attention.
5.1.6 If she is a boarder in a government school hostel, she shall be entitled to continue in the hostel for the period that she is attending school under the same conditions as would have applied had she not fallen pregnant. She shall not, however, be permitted to continue in the hostel if she is in need of specialised medical care which cannot be provided in the hostel.
5.2 With respect to the boy responsible for the pregnancy, if he is a learner in school (either
the same school as the girl, or another school), and provided that rape is not involved:
5.2.1 There should be at least one member of staff with whom he can discuss his situation. It should be known who the teacher is that will be prepared to discuss the matter sympathetically and non-judgmentally, and provide counselling or direct the boy to someone who will be able to provide counselling. Counselling should include developing an understanding of the need for supporting the girl morally, emotionally and financially, of her need for ante-natal care and of the options that are open to them once the infant is born. Referral to a social worker should be made where this service is available.
5.2.2 The boy should be made aware of the consequences of accepting or denying paternity, and of the possible consequences of providing false information.
5.2.3 The boy may continue with his education at school, until the girl leaves school for her confinement. After she has given birth, and provided that there is clear evidence that the infant will be cared for by a responsible adult other than the mother of the infant, the boy shall have the right of readmission to the same school within twelve months of date on which she left school, irrespective of his age. He shall have the option, within the same period, to return to another school, provided that space is available. Should the boy decide not to return to full-time schooling, he should be counselled about the options available to him for continuing his education.
5.2.4 A boy who has left school for impregnating a schoolgirl may write his end-of-year examinations provided that he can satisfy the School board that his work is up to standard. In effect this will apply to boys who have been attending school for at least the first half of the school year. He may write his examinations along with the other learners, unless the School Board decides to make other arrangements. If the girl elects to write in a different venue, the boy may elect to write with her, provided that satisfactory arrangements are made for invigilation, in which case he will have to share the costs of invigilation with the girl or her family.
5.2.5 These provisions are not intended as a form of punishment. They recognise that by impregnating a girl, the boy has taken on other responsibilities which must be given due attention.
5.2.6 If he is a boarder in a government school hostel, he shall be entitled to continue in the hostel for the period that he is attending school under the same conditions as would have applied had he not impregnated a girl or woman.
5.3 With respect to a teacher or other staff member responsible for the pregnancy:
5.3.1 If the male is a teacher or other member of staff of a school, he shall be suspended and charged with misconduct, as described in paragraph 4.1, provided that the girl makes a sworn declaration that he has had sexual relations with her. If blood tests confirm the paternity of the teacher or other staff member, he shall be suspended from teaching immediately without pay and charged with misconduct. The school or social worker should counsel and support the girl in obtaining maintenance for the child from the father.
5.4 With respect to an outside member of the community responsible for the pregnancy: