Faith leaders should not be icons that discriminate pregnant teens and child mothers who want to go back to school.
Most back-to-school news has focused on a speech by Bishop James Ssebagala of Mukono Diocese who directed teachers in Church of Uganda-founded schools to block pregnant or breastfeeding students despite a government directive that makes it illegal.
Limiting access to education for child mothers and pregnant girls has negative effects for any country, family, climate, society, and human resource. We can’t solve a national problem when everyone is operating in silos. A 2020 Sauti Za Wanainchi survey found that nearly 80% of Ugandans are worried about the rate of teenage pregnancy as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. We must have a universal position and approach. Why are other stakeholders having problems following Ministry of education guidelines?
Before COVID-19, there were local NGOs running Vocational training programmes for child mothers and pregnant teens. How did they design their classes to be young motherhood-friendly? Can formal schools benchmark? The argument that schools are unprepared logistically does not hold water at all. I don’t think any school can fail to develop local solutions to address the challenges of educating child mothers and pregnant teens. A senior woman teacher is another resource to use. Even cravings for the girls can be managed like any other menu at school. Pregnant teens can still carry flasks, and schools provide porridge. If inadequate funds is the issue, schools can look at partnerships with corporate institutions for feeding programmes.
Keep child mothers and pregnant teens in school to avoid increased cases of abandoned babies, child prostitution, street children, and unsafe abortions. Some, especially those who conceived as a result of sexual abuse, may start looking at their babies as burdens to achieving their career dreams. Not every frustrated child who wants to go back to school will look for a foster home. If she abandons the baby in the bush and a dog rescues it, baby may not make it. Evidence shows baby homes receive babies from mainly teen mothers. Do you want to wake up to increased cases of babies dumped on the streets?
Children are safer at school. National statistics from the Ministry of Education have shown 30% increase in pregnancies among school girls during COVID. We don’t need a child abuse pandemic that can be a result of blocking pregnant girls and child mothers from accessing certain schools. If they have to wait till their child grows, or they give birth, parents may resort to forced child marriages to even get rich..
Increased mental health issues for child mothers. Pregnancy exposes young girls to adverse depression and anxiety. These girls have been already rejected and discriminated against in the community. Schools are in the best possible position to help them access frequent psycho-social support. Studies have shown that some subjects like music and art can be therapy to these child mothers and pregnant mothers. The worldwide prevalence of depression during pregnancy is estimated to be between 11 and 18%. BMC Psychiatry (May 2018)
We will face diverse climate change effects if more girls are locked out of school. Girl education is linked to fighting climate change. Closing gender gaps in education helps countries take more resilient climate change action through empowering them with reproductive health, human rights, and leadership knowledge in school. Malala Fund 2021 report estimates that in 2025, climate change will be a contributing factor in preventing at least 12.5 million girls from completing their education each year. The report asks leaders to keep girls in school to strengthen climate action strategies.
Child mothers and pregnant girls are our hope for the economy. If we don’t empower them with education and skills early, we will have a less productive generation that will result in slow economic growth. A 2018 World Bank report found that limited educational opportunities for girls and barriers to completing 12 years of education are costing countries between US$15 trillion and US$30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.
The narrative that child mothers may encourage peers at school to do the same is far-fetched. Some of these girls are rape victims. Address sexual abuse. Even on religious grounds, would Jesus Christ or Prophet Hosea have the same stand that some girls should be written off current education opportunities? All children need second chances for education because they have dreams in life even before they make mistakes. God asks us not asked us not to judge his people but love them unconditionally.
Ivan N Baliboola
PR and Organizational Diagnosis specialist