«SCHOOL POLICY ON LEARNER PREGNANCY IN NAMIBIA: SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND INFORMATION prepared for the Ministry of Education by Gender Research & Advocacy ...»
On the other hand, although children turn to teachers for help in situations of abuse, it is particularly disturbing to note that school teachers may be the culprits in some of the situations of forced sex. The Code of Conduct for the Teaching Service makes no particular reference to learner pregnancy, but stipulates that a teacher “may not become involved in any form of romance or sexual relations with a learner or sexual harassment or abuse of a learner”. Teachers are also tasked to promote gender equality. Failure to comply with the Code of Conduct constitutes misconduct and must be dealt with in terms of Namibia’s Public Service Act. This means that the misconduct could lead to suspension followed by an enquiry, with the ultimate result being reprimand, a fine, transfer to another post, a reduction in salary or rank, and possible dismissal, depending on the recommendation of the disciplinary committee which considers the case. Depending on the seriousness of the infringement of the Code of Conduct, the teacher in question may also “be given the necessary counselling and advice and opportunity to correct his or her behaviour”.
The implementation of sanctions against teachers who violate this provision should be strictly implemented. There are reports that some teachers who have caused pregnancies have compromised the parents of the girl by offering settlements in form of cash or foodstuffs to discourage the parents from pursuing the matter with the Ministry of Education.
It is a very serious breach of trust and responsibility for a teacher to be intimately involved with a student. It should be noted that if the school girl is under the age of 16 and the teacher more than three years older, the teacher has committed a crime in terms of the Combating of Immoral Practices Act and should be prosecuted; if the school girl is under the age of 14, the crime is rape.
Ideally, the culprit teacher, in addition to being charged with a criminal offence if the girl is under the age of 16, ought to be barred from having any further direct contact with students. Simply put, the teacher should be barred from teaching. Further, the Ministry of Education should have a registry for teachers who have been found guilty of such behaviour for reference purposes, to prevent accidental re-hiring of such teachers for any post involving direct contact with children.
6.5 School programmes on sexuality
There are two programmes on enhancing children’s life skills in relation to relationships and sexuality: the “Window of Hope” programme aimed at 10 to 14 year olds, and the “My Future My Choice” (MFMC) programme aimed at youth aged 15 to 24 years. Both are structured as after-school activities, with out-of-school youth being able to participate in the MFMC programme along with school-going youth.
‘Window of Hope’ is designed to help children in the targeted grades to develop life skills such as communicating, decision-making, care-giving, identifying and managing emotions, building self-esteem, resisting peer pressure and building healthy relationships. ‘My Future My Choice’ makes use of peer educators and covers similar topics adapted for older audiences. It includes segments on contraception and on the consequences of early pregnancy.
The 2006 UNICEF study found that MFMC participants on average have been sexually active for a slightly shorter time than non-participants, and consumed alcohol slightly less frequently. One drawback however is that the intended approach is not necessarily consistent with what is happening on the ground. For example, the 2002 Rundu study found that the aspects of the life skills education which were supposed to be incorporated into the formal curriculum were being neglected because these were non-promotional subjects.
Commitment to the continuation of such initiatives is already incorporated into the National Policy on HIV-AIDS for the Education Sector. These programmes are an obvious avenue for intensified attention to the problem of teen pregnancy, as well as the dissemination of information about a new school policy on pregnancy among learners.
There is also scope for cooperation with non-governmental groups on this topic. For example, learner pregnancy has been one of the topics focused on by the Ombetja Yehinga Organisation (OYO), which works with youth in Khomas, Erongo and Kunene regions and produces a bi-monthly magazine on issues of youth and sexuality. OYO has also worked with local youth to produce a film on learner pregnancy entitled “5 Minutes of Pleasure”. Childline/Lifeline also gives school presentations in some schools which combine factual information about reproduction with information about gender equality and good relationships. As another example, the Otjituuuo Youth Association joined forces with the Red Cross to hold reproductive heath training sessions in their village near Grootfontein during 2007, after several reports of teen pregnancy amongst local girls.
7. PROVIDING EFFECTIVE SUPPORTKey factors which will are likely to influence the decision on whether or not to return to school are the availability of child care, the socioeconomic status of the household and the attitude of the learner’s parents.
7.1 Change in status and stigma A 2002 FAWENA study found shame and stigma to be a problem. For example, a primary school girl in Kunene Region who became pregnant felt that everyone was “talking about her” and that her teachers refused to accept her after her return. The 2002 Rundu study found that male learners and teachers teased new mothers, such as by mockingly referring to them as “mother”.
A 2006 study in the Rundu area noted that girls who have given birth become adults in the eyes of some cultures. Such a change is normally a matter of pride, but it can also be a basis for high expectation or for mockery when the young mother returns to school.
Examples of comments which might be made were: “A mother cannot behave like this”;
“How can a mother give an incorrect answer?”; “Some of you are adult people and have children. You are not supposed to make noise”; “Why should a mother allow such behaviour to happen in the class?”.
This change in status is also perceived by some learners as meaning that teenage parents do not belong in the school environment any more, and some learners reportedly use negative words and names when referring to young mothers. One teen mother reported that fellow students might say things such as: “We do not want to see an old woman in our class”. The result of such attitudes can be feelings of isolation and rejection.
One idea which could assist here is arranging regular meetings in which pregnant learners and learner parents can share and discuss the problems they experience and help each other to identify solutions. Another suggestion put forward is to set up special rooms at hostels where pregnant boarders can study together in private.
It should be noted in respect of this issue that the Code of Conduct for the Teaching Service states that a teacher “may not in any form humiliate or abuse a learner (i.e.
physically, emotionally or psychologically)” and “must respect the dignity and constitutional rights of every learner without prejudice, including the right to education, equality of culture and the right to privacy”. Teachers must further more “refrain from any form of discrimination” including discrimination on the basis of “health reasons”.
Similarly, the General Rules of Conduct for Learners state that a learner “must respect the dignity, person and property of teachers, learners and members of the public”.
7.2 The burden of extra responsibilities
The 2006 Rundu study noted that young mothers who return to school shoulder the “double responsibility” of schooling combined with parenting. This was cited as a contributing factor to poor attendance by young mothers, especially with respect to afternoon study, extra classes after school and extra-curricular activities.
One suggestion offered for easing the burden on learner mothers is to excuse them from extra-curricular activities (unless they are staying the school hostel apart from their babies).
Another suggestion is to try to schedule extra classes at times which can accommodate new mothers. It has been noted that parents should also be involved in assisting schoolgirl mothers with their burden of responsibility. Where they seem unwilling to help, schools could attempt to discuss the situation with them and try to convince them to be more supportive.
7.3 Teacher counselling
Both the 2002 and the 2006 Rundu studies found that while many schools had a specific female teacher who counselled girls on issues pertaining to sexuality – either a teacher formally assigned to play this role by school management or someone who had taken the task on out of her own initiative. However, none of the teachers had specific training in counselling skills, although some had attended workshops on this topic. Techniques for counselling and supporting pregnant learners and learner parents could be a topic of inservice training for school guidance counsellors and selected teachers.
8. ABORTION, “BABY-DUMPING” AND INFANTICIDE
In several other African countries, fear that a pregnancy would disrupt education is one of the main reasons young women cite for seeking abortions. There may be a link between educational policies and abortion in Namibia as well. Many learners have said that they would consider abortion if they became pregnant, while several reported that they had actually resorted to this option themselves. In discussing motivations for abortion, learners cited not only fears of having to leave school, but also shame, embarrassment, stigma, worries about not being able to support the child financially, not knowing how to look after a baby, and lack of emotional support from their parents or the baby’s father. While no data exists on the number of Namibian school girls who have procured abortions in order to remain in school, some have certainly done so. Abortion in Namibia is illegal except in very narrowly defined circumstances and the possibility of girls in such situations resorting to backstreet abortions with dire health consequences or even fatalities is very real.
Restrictive school policies may also lead to baby-dumping or infanticide, although there are as yet no studies which document the extent of this connection.
Thus, assertions that a long enforced leave of absence for learner parents is in the interests of the newborn child are mistaken, as extremely restrictive policies may simply mean that there will be no newborn child to care for.
9. THE DIFFICULTY OF BEING GENDER-NEUTRALSimply applying the same rules to pregnant school schoolgirls as to schoolboys is not very effective, as practice shows in Namibia and other countries. For one thing, the schoolgirl’s pregnancy will eventually become obvious while the father’s involvement will usually not be evident. Another issue is that the father is more likely to be an older man who is out of school than a fellow leaner. Furthermore, girls are often reluctant to identify the father, whether he is a fellow learner or someone outside the school.
Simply stating that the same rules will be applicable to pregnant learners and the boys responsible for those pregnancies is not a sufficient method to achieve gender equality on this topic. Even if the fathers are schoolboys, there will not be symmetry in the consequences of the pregnancy for both social and biological reasons. In order to achieve gender equality with respect to learner pregnancies, the only option is to provide support to the female learner so as to minimise the negative consequences of the pregnancy.
Against this background, the Ministry of Education has recognised the need for a further revision of Namibia’s policy on teenage pregnancy, to place greater emphasis on positive steps to prevent learner pregnancy, and to ensure that young parents are encouraged to complete their education for the benefit of themselves, their infants and the developing