«SCHOOL POLICY ON LEARNER PREGNANCY IN NAMIBIA: SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND INFORMATION prepared for the Ministry of Education by Gender Research & Advocacy ...»
Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Committee which monitors this Convention has emphasised the need to provide support for adolescent parents, noting that if support is lacking, young mothers may be prone to depression and anxiety, compromising their ability to care for their child. It has urged governments which are party to the Convention “to develop policies that will allow adolescent mothers to continue their education”.
Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child
This Charter requires governments to “take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates”. Governments must also ensure that “children who become pregnant before completing their education shall have an opportunity to continue with their education on the basis of their individual ability”. Commenting on this
provision, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education stated:
Translating this obligation into practice often requires overcoming the denials of access to school for pregnant girls and very young mothers (when pregnancy is a disciplinary offence, for example), while overcoming this obstacle requires a well designed strategy for changing social norms through the mobilization of teachers, parents, community leaders, and pupils themselves.
Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa
This Protocol commits states to the elimination of a range of barriers to girls’ education and requires governments to “promote the enrolment and retention of girls in schools and other training institutions and the organisation of programmes for women who leave school prematurely”.
Education for All (EFA)
“Education for All” refers to an international commitment adopted at a World Conference held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 which includes the goal of “eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education”. In Namibia, one of the national strategic objectives to advance this EFA goal is to decrease the rate of dropouts due to pregnancy and motherhood among schoolgirls. Namibia’s National Plan of Action (2002-2015) for Education for All identifies several activities which could contribute to achieving this
Publicise and implement the policy on teenage pregnancy and encourage girls to continue with their studies for as long as possible.
Sensitise teachers, Principals, school boards, community leaders, inspectors in order to reduce the stigma of pregnancy and motherhood.
Explore options which would allow pregnant girls to complete their education, and increase access to reproductive health services.
The four principles of the Namibian Plan of Action for Education for All are equality, access, quality and democracy
5. APPROACHES IN OTHER COUNTRIESThe debate on policies on teenage pregnancies in schools in Sub-Saharan Africa has been ongoing for some time. The trend in most countries in the region – such as Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Swaziland – in recent years is to move towards policies which make it easier for young mothers to continue their education. Botswana has instituted an innovative pilot project to support teen mothers in continuing their education, described in the next box.
In Madagascar, new mothers can return to school immediately after delivery if they wish.
In Cameroon, girls have the right to negotiate the duration of their maternity leave with their school, and can arrange for extra classes so that they do not lag behind in their school work during the agreed period of absence from school.
Some of the most progressive polices on schoolgirl pregnancy are found in developing countries in the Spanish-speaking world, where there appears to be an increased trend to enshrine the rights of pregnant students and young mothers in legislation rather than merely in policy.
Further information on approaches in other countries can be found in the attached documents.
The Diphalana initiative in Botswana is an example of a flexible learning programme that caters for a particular type of vulnerable learners – girls who get pregnant during their course of learning. Pregnant schoolgirls at Pekenene School are allowed to return to school after giving birth, for as long as they wish. Previously Botswana law only allowed re-entry by such girls in certain circumstances, and where this happened, girls had to wait for a year after birth. During maternity leave, schoolwork and other resources are sent to girls' homes and the school has developed a curriculum with some distance education modules that learners can attend from home, without attending formal school. This makes it possible for pregnant girls to continue learning from home instead of being marginalised as is normally the norm in most systems within the region. When they are certified fit to return to school by a doctor, they return with their babies. The school has crèche facilities, which can take babies as young as 4 months, and nappies and milk are provided. At break and lunchtimes the young mothers breast-feed their children. The Diphalana project requires that the father, if he is at school, shares the responsibility of looking after the baby at break and lunchtimes, so that he can develop a sense of responsibility (Unterhalter et al., 2004).
Through the Diphalana intervention, the double frustration brought about by getting pregnant prematurely and being rejected by the school system is greatly alleviated; hope is restored and a sense of being accepted by the society is instilled into the beneficiary learners. Such learners are likely to apply themselves conscientiously after the experience of childbearing and may realise great academic achievements in their lifetime. The benefits of providing such safety nets to the individual girl and her baby and to the wider society are immense. By making use of distance education support materials, keeping communication links with pregnant learners from their homes and giving them support, and providing extra facilities like crèches at school, the Diphalana initiative shows how flexibility in delivery modes and adopting a different conception of school from the traditional one can cater for some of the vulnerable children in developing societies. In most of the sub-Saharan countries, many girls terminate their education prematurely due to pregnancy and the Diphalana initiative is an example of good practice in terms of mitigating the effects of this problem on these vulnerable learners.
This initiative is also unique in that it demonstrates how concerns across a range of social sectors – health, education and social welfare – can be integrated to provide an imaginative response to the issue of schoolgirl pregnancy, one of the prevalent causes for dropping out of school amongst school girls, particularly those who live without adult care givers and who come from poor families.
6. THE CHALLENGE OF PREVENTIONPrevention is an important component of any approach to adolescent pregnancy, but prevention is also a complex task.
Sexual activity begins early for most Namibian teens. National health statistics indicate that about half of girls aged 15-19 are sexually active, as well as about two-thirds of the boys in that age group. Factors which can lead to early pregnancy include peer pressure, “sugar daddy” relationships, lack of parental love and guidance, failure of parents to discuss sex with their children, lack of recreational activities for youth and alcohol abuse.
6.1 The influence of the school environment
One contributing factor is that girls in some parts of Africa do not start school at the appropriate age, meaning that they are older in their secondary school years and thus more likely to become sexually active. Even where girls do start school at the appropriate age, the necessity of repeating grades because of unsatisfactory progress may still result in higher age for grade than expected.
The quality of the school environment and the success of the education programme are also relevant. A 2001 study in Kenya found that girls who attended schools where they felt that they received equal treatment with boys were less likely to engage in sex than those who attended schools with less gender equality. Other studies have found that girls with poor school performance are significantly more likely than better students to become pregnant. It would also seem that girls who feel valued and hopeful about their futures are more likely to delay child-bearing.
Another area of focus in respect of pregnancy prevention should be the school hostel environment. A 2002 study of girls’ education in the Rundu area found that “most government-run hostels were seen as unsafe for girls”, lacking in sufficient measure for physical security (such as working locks on door) as well as suffering from inadequate disciplinary supervision and an absence of organised leisure activities, In order to play a positive role in preventing pregnancy, schools must be safe and secure environments where students feel protected against sexual harassment and coercion.
Namibia’s National Policy on Reproductive Health (2001) gives particular attention to adolescent-friendly reproductive health services. However, there is not yet full realisation of this ideal on the ground. There is a role for teachers and school guidance counsellors to play in bridging the gap, to provide an alternate and possibly more accessible source of information and advice on reproductive health and contraception for adolescents.
6.2 Pregnancy as a result of unwanted sex
One factor which must not be underestimated is the effect of gender violence on schoolgirls – many pregnancies may be the result of forced sex rather than free choice or risky sexual behaviour. Recent police statistics indicate that just over one-third of all victims of rape and attempted rape are under age 18. A 2006 UNICEF study found that 19% of the girls aged 15-24 in the study had already been pregnant – with a shocking 40% of these pregnancies resulting from forced sex.
Another form of pressure can come from teachers. Between 1995 and 2002, the Ministry of Basic Education expelled 114 male teachers for impregnating schoolgirls. The full extent of this problem may never be known, as it is hard for a learner to point fingers at a teacher. While some people blame the school girls in such situations for “seducing” the teachers, it must be recognised that this is an unequal power relationship in which the teacher is in a position of trust and responsibility with respect to the learners.
Even where there is no overt coercion, girls may still feel powerless to negotiate sexual behaviour or contraceptive use if they do not feel they are equal partners in a sexual relationship. This inequality is obvious in relationships with richer, older men or men in positions of authority, such as teachers, but it can also be present in relationships with boys of their own age because of persisting gender inequalities in society. For example, a study of adolescent sexual behaviour in the Ohangwena Region noted that “the notion that a girl or a woman cannot refuse sex develops at an early age” These concerns re-enforce other arguments against applying a punitive policy to pregnancy learners, since many schoolgirls are coerced or pressured into risking pregnancy against their will. The individual right to sexual autonomy needs to be highlighted in life skills programmes, as well as mutual respect for sexual partners. Girls need to be shown how to avoid placing themselves in situations of sexual vulnerability, such as by accepting gifts from older men, and boys need to be taught that “no means no”, and that girls have an absolute right to say no. These seemingly simple messages will not be easy to impart, given the fact that they go against some persisting cultural norms which continue to view women as being subordinate to men in sexual matters
6.3 Alcohol abuse
The UNICEF study highlighted the connection between alcohol and risky sexual behaviour. The study found that 15-24 year olds consume alcohol on a regular basis, and start drinking fairly early (at the age of 15). One-fifth of this age group uses alcohol daily or up to six times week. Furthermore, almost 27% had participated in sexual activities while under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol increases the probability of having taken one or more sexual risks which could lead to HIV (and thus also to pregnancy) more than threefold.
The connection between alcohol and risky sexual behaviour is already part of HIV education programmes and interventions such as ‘My Future My Choice’. This could be bolstered by school-sponsored evening activities which provide entertainment options for students in an alcohol-free environment.
Interestingly, a 2002 study of girls’ education in the Rundu area noted that parents, students and school officials interviewed all cited alcohol abuse by teachers as a problematic issue, in that intoxicated teachers not only neglected their teaching duties, but were also more prone to also solicit sex from female learners.
6.4 Relationships with teachers Teachers are a potential source of positive information and influence. After parents and grandparents, teachers are often the most important adults in any school going child’s life. Many children say that they would go to a teacher if they had a problem.