«SCHOOL POLICY ON LEARNER PREGNANCY IN NAMIBIA: SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND INFORMATION prepared for the Ministry of Education by Gender Research & Advocacy ...»
5.4.1 The school or social worker should counsel and support the girl in obtaining maintenance for the child from the father.
[The remaining sections cover Population and Family Life Education, Pre-Service Teacher Education, InService Training of Practising Teachers and Related Matters. These sections state that all inspectors of education, principals, and teachers should be familiarised with the policy on pregnancy, and that copies of the policy should be given to all school board members. It is also suggested that student representative councils should receive guidance on the policy on pregnancy] Cabinet approved “temporary guidelines” on teenage pregnancy in 1999. In 2001, the Ministry of Basic Education published a summary of the policy approved by Cabinet in a circular entitled “Implementation of the Policy on Pregnancy amongst Learners” (Formal Education Circular 5/2001) – see the following box. The “temporary guidelines” circulated in 2001 are still being described as temporary in 2008 and have not yet been replaced by any final guidelines or permanent policy.
Circular Formal Education 5/2001 To: Regional Directors Head Office Directors Principals of Primary and Secondary Schools Inspectors School Councillors
SUBJECT: IMPLEMENTATION OF THE POLICY ON PREGNANCY AMONGST LEARNERS
1.0 Introduction Pregnancy amongst learners is one of the social problems which prevent girls from continuing with their education. The need to address this matter came to the fore in 1994 when a Study Group was set up to investigate this issue and recommend measures to address it. After consultation with stakeholders the Study Group drafted the Policy on Pregnancy amongst learners that was submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
The need to address this problem is still being experienced. From time to time parents approach the Ministry and concerned community members requesting that pregnant learners and those who have delivered should be allowed to continue with their studies. Such requests are in line with the recommendations of the Study Group on Policy on Pregnancy among learners.
The purpose of this circular is to encourage the implementation of those measures Cabinet has approved for implementation.
2.0 Cabinet Resolutions regarding Teenage Pregnancy
Cabinet has resolved:
2.1 That while the report is awaited from the ad hoc Cabinet Committee on the above issue, as a temporary guideline, pregnant schoolgirls be allowed to attend special afternoon/ evening classes and they should also be allowed to sit for examinations.
2.2 That a pregnant girl should be allowed to attend regular classes at least until her pregnancy is visibly clear.
2.3 That as a temporary guideline, girls who fall pregnant should be allowed to return to normal schooling after spending at least a year with the baby.
2.4 That the same conditions should apply to the schoolboy who is held responsible for the pregnancy.
3.0 An Advice with the Implementation of the Policy
3.1 Pregnancy is a sensitive matter. There are certain cultural values that might not be comfortable with the spirit, which appears to characterize this new approach toward teenage pregnancy in schools. As we find ourselves in a modern society with all its evils, we have to adapt ourselves to the reality of a changing world.
3.2 The implementation of these measures should be done with care. Regional Directors should involve local stakeholders such as NANTU, TUN, NANSO, NASEM etc to help them sensitize parents and members of the communities to the new way in which we are advised to approach this delicate issue.
3.3 School Board members should also take full responsibility for explaining this policy to parents and other community members.
3.4 Finally it should be stressed that school councillors have a vital role to play to enhance the implementation of Cabinet resolutions regarding teenage pregnancy. They are the professionals whose expertise should be tapped in this respect. Obviously, in those regions where these posts are not filled this responsibility falls squarely on inspectors of education.
There are fundamental differences between the draft policy which was the subject of widespread consultations and the 1999 Cabinet decision summarised in the 2001 circular.
The main points of difference are (1) how long a girl is allowed to continue with her schooling after becoming pregnant and (2) when the new mother may return to school.
Furthermore, the draft policy emphasised support for both the girl and the boy involved, as well as providing detailed and sensitively-worded provisions which made comparable rules for both parties. These nuanced and supportive provisions are absent from the 2001 circular.
A 2001 study by FAWENA showed that the current policy is being implemented inconsistently in different places – with one girl astonishingly being forced to stay out of school for one year after giving birth even though the baby had died. This study recommended the adoption of a policy which focuses on support rather than punishment.
It proposed that pregnant girls should be re-admitted into the school system after delivery, as soon as the baby is weaned. The study also recommended the establishment of “bridging centres” where young mothers can continue with their education while breastfeeding, counselling services for the affected girl and her parents, and the introduction of flexible models of attendance to provide additional opportunities for pregnant schoolgirls and young mothers to carry on with their classes.
A 2002 assessment of girls’ education in the Rundu Educational Region also found inconsistencies in how the current guidelines are being understood and implemented, particularly with respect to the amount of time a schoolgirl was allowed to remain in class after it becomes known that she was pregnant. In some schools, girls were allowed to stay on until they were due for delivery, while in others they were suspended as soon as the pregnancy became visible. There were also inconsistent practices in respect of the provision of counselling to pregnant schoolgirls.
In 2005 the debate on the teenage pregnancy policy was revived when a teenage mother, Utjiua Karuaihe, sought to be readmitted to school immediately after the birth of her child, without waiting for one year as stipulated in the guidelines. The case, which the Legal Assistance Centre took up as a matter of public interest, illustrates some of the problems with the current approach to schoolgirl pregnancy. However, despite a series of court applications, the new mother was unable to gain re-admission to her school in the academic year after she gave birth.
School ordered to reconsider young mother's application
In a ruling that could have far-reaching consequences because of the pregnancy rate among schoolgirls, the High Court has ruled that schools cannot shut out teenage mothers who have a support system to look after their babies while they are in the classroom.
The ruling came after the mother of an 18-year-old Windhoek High School student took the education authorities to court for refusing to readmit her to the school this year because she had given birth to a baby in December.
The school based its decision on a policy that requires teenage mothers to take a year off schooling to care for their babies.
Acting Judge John Manyarara ruled yesterday that the policy was not correctly interpreted, as it recommends great caution in accepting applications. He said it was not "reasonably possibly" the intention of the Cabinet policy to prohibit the enrolment of teenage mothers if they have a support system, like Utjiua Karuaihe, whose mother Seuaa Karuaihe-Samupofu was willing and able to take care of her daughter's baby during school hours.
Manyarara compared the situation to that of an employed mother who is entitled to three months' maternity leave and is expected to return to work after such a period.
"In practice too, women invariably do what this applicant (Karuaihe-Samupofu) has done for Utjiua; they make arrangements for a relative or nanny to take care of the baby while the mother is at work and the relative or nanny assumes full responsibility or the baby during that time," said Manyarara.
He said if the Cabinet policy aimed to facilitate the return to school of pupils who have given birth, there could be no reason why a pupil who has the necessary support system for the care of a baby should be prevented from taking advantage of the system.
"Much as society may abhor teenage pregnancies (with sound reason, I may add), it is not the intention of the Cabinet policy to punish learners who happen to find themselves in the position of Utjiua," he continued.
Manyarara set aside the decision by the principal of WHS to refuse Utjiua's application for admission. He ordered the principal to exercise his discretion in considering Utjiua's application and to inform her mother in writing of his decision within seven days.
In the event that Utjiua is refused admission on grounds other than that the school is full or her preferred subjects are not offered at WHS, Manyarara ordered the principal to notify the Basic Education Minister of the reasons. He told Seuaa Karuaihe-Samupofu that she could approach the court again if not satisfied… Christof Maletsky, The Namibian, 11 February 2005
4. NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL LEGALFRAMEWORK
4.1 Non-discrimination and the right to education The starting point for the right to education is Article 20(1) of the Namibian Constitution, which states that “All persons shall have the right to education”.
The right to education has been interpreted at the international level as including the right of a learner not to be discriminated against or “disciplined” because of pregnancy, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has called upon all UN members to eliminate obstacles which limit access to education by pregnant girls. The UN Committee which monitors the Convention on the Rights of the Child has stated that the exclusion from school of pregnant schoolgirls “is not only discriminatory against girls but also a violation of the right to education”.
Courts in some other countries (including Colombia and South Africa) have found that even a temporary suspension on the basis of pregnancy is impermissible discrimination in respect of the right to education.
The current Namibian policy purports to apply precisely the same rules to pregnant schoolgirls and to male learners who father children during the course of their education.
However, the policy is seldom applied to male learners, who can easily father children without this being noticed by school authorities. Thus, the policy arguably constitutes indirect discrimination since the number of girls who are adversely affected by it is far higher than the number of boys, even though it is framed in gender-neutral fashion.
4.2 The newborn child’s right to be cared for by both parents
Article 15 of the Namibian Constitution says that “Children shall have the right… subject to legislation enacted in the best interests of children, as far as possible the right to know and be cared for by their parents”. This Constitutional provision has been cited by the Ministry of Education as a justification for requiring new mothers (and fathers) to remain out of school for a year. However, reliance on this right to justify the current Policy on Pregnancy amongst Learners is misplaced.
This constitutional protection applies to all children, throughout their childhoods. If this Constitutional provision did support a policy forbidding new parents to continue their schooling for the first year of their child’s life, then working mothers and fathers would also have to be given a full year’s maternity and paternity leave from work. By the same token, the Constitutional right of the child to be cared for by his or her parents does not come to an end at age one. If the Constitution could be applied in the way that has been suggested, then parents would be forbidden from working or attending school altogether.
The “care” envisaged in the Constitution logically cannot not refer to full-time daily care of children of all ages, but must rather relate to ongoing parental contact, involvement and responsibility.
The UN Committee on the Right of the Child has recognised that a diversity of family and caregiving relationships can be in the best interests of a young child, noting the role of “some combination of mother, father, siblings, grandparents and other members of the extended family, along with professional caregivers specialised in childcare and education”.
4.3 Other relevant international and regional commitments
Namibia has other international and regional commitments which give more specific attention to the issue of teenage pregnancy and education. Article 144 of the Namibian Constitution states that “unless otherwise provided by this Constitution or Act of Parliament, the general rules of public international law and international agreements binding upon Namibia under this Constitution shall form part of the law of Namibia.” Therefore the commitments below, which have been signed by the Namibian government, are legally binding in Namibia.
Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) This Convention requires the government to take all appropriate measures for “the reduction of female student drop-out rates and the organization of programmes for girls and women who have left school prematurely”.
In 1997, in response to Namibia’s first report under CEDAW, the Committee which monitors CEDAW cited teenage pregnancy as “the biggest challenge to female educational advancement” and expressed its concern that “pregnant teenage women were punished by expulsion from school”.
In 2007, the same Committee gave a more detailed response on this issue in response to Namibia’s combined second and third CEDAW report, expressing its concern “that the provision contained in the Policy on Pregnancy among Learners requiring that girls who become pregnant should be allowed to return to normal schooling only after spending at least one year with the baby could act as a deterrent for girls to resume their studies after childbirth.” The Committee recommended that Namibia “implement measures to retain girls in school”.