An adolescent girl's formal education is usually over the moment she becomes a mother, limiting her opportunities for a lifetime. A recent study by the Population Council finds that in sub-Saharan Africa, gaps and inconsistencies in education policies violate a pregnant adolescent's right to education.
"Nearly all adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa who have ever been pregnant are out of school," said Harriet Birungi, Population Council country director in Kenya. "We wanted to understand how the education sector is responding to this situation and how the response can be improved to get teen mothers back into school."
From August to October 2014, Population Council researchers reviewed published literature and policy documents from the Ministries of Health and Education in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. They also conducted in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with school administrators, teachers, students, and parents. The researchers found gaps in policy, confusion about policy, and lack of knowledge about policy that combine to keep pregnant girls and teen mothers out of school.
Preventing early and unintended pregnancy
None of the countries examined in this study offer truly comprehensive sexuality education.
For example, information about pregnancy prevention is rarely included in curriculums. Sexuality education in Botswana, Malawi, and Uganda includes information on proper use of condoms, and life-skills education in Zambia and Uganda includes information on contraceptives (in the latter, in Islamic religious curriculum only). In places where information on pregnancy prevention is taught, it is only covered in secondary school. However, few students make it to secondary school, so many adolescents do not receive this information.
Furthermore, schools and health services are not officially linked in any of the countries, despite recognition that such a connection might help reduce early and unintended pregnancy. Researchers did find evidence that this link is happening informally; for example, in Uganda, schools located near health facilities have established informal relationships.
Responding to early and unintended pregnancy
When girls do get pregnant, education-sector policies in sub-Saharan Africa often do not facilitate their continuation or reentry in school. The study's authors describe three different school-system responses to pregnant learners: