Sierra Leone - let girls learn!

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UPDATE 1 June 2017: In May 2017, our staff visited Sierra Leone to meet with our partners and some of the girls they are working with in our campaign to get the government to lift the ban on pregnant girls attending school and to comprehensively address sexual violence. We were especially thrilled by the huge strides that the Child Welfare Society (CWS) is making with adolescent girls in Waterloo and Tombo. The girls feel less stigmatized and our hopeful that education will still be open to them as route to build a new life. We met with more than 50 girls from the four girls clubs that CWS runs who now have a safe space to learn about their rights, gain invaluable life skills and to get support from other girls and mentors in similar situations.  During the trip, we were able to advise one of the girls on how to best follow up with police on her sexual abuse case, which we hope will inspire other girls to come forward.

To address the ongoing human rights violations, we took testimonies from the girls to the African Committee of Experts for the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) in Lesotho with our partners from the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA).  The Commissioners were extremely receptive and we will continue to highlight girls’ cases to ensure that they obtain justice.

Ongoing human rights crisis in Sierra Leone: thousands of adolescent girls who became pregnant—often due to sexual abuse or exploitation—are still being denied the right to attend school!

The Ebola epidemic focused international attention on the widespread sexual violence and exploitation of girls in Sierra Leone. Many young girls returning to school after the crisis found themselves denied the right to an education because they had become pregnant:

“Samantha” was impregnated by her teacher when she was only 16. He would often ask her to carry water to his house in exchange for basic school supplies and good grades. Ultimately, the teacher molested and raped Samantha, who kept quiet because she was afraid of what he would do to her in retaliation. Despite her family’s interventions, the teacher was allowed to continue working in the classroom—a classroom that Samantha was expelled from because of her pregnancy.

Like many girls in Sierra Leone, “Jeanne” lost both of her parents to the Ebola epidemic and is on her own at age 17. She hoped that getting an education would be her ticket to a better life. However, “biker boys” demanded sex from Jeanne in exchange for transportation to and from her job and school, and having no other options, she complied. Jeanne became pregnant and was devastated to find out she could no longer attend school or sit for public exams.

“Frances” was only 13 years old when she was exploited and became pregnant by a much older man who helped pay for her school fees in exchange for sexual acts.  She too is no longer allowed to go to school. Frances’ mother, a single mom without any support from relatives, despairs this injustice.

In an attempt to accommodate these “out of school” girls, the Government of Sierra Leone set up alternate measures, supported by international aid. However, while this alternative might have been based in good intentions, the resulting separate and unequal schooling is only perpetuating discrimination and stigma against girls who have already been victimized by those with power.

TAKE ACTION! No girl who finds herself pregnant, and especially after having been exploited and violated, should be additionally victimized by being denied an education. And, international donors must ensure all girls are educated and use their funding abilities to promote equality and freedom from violence.

Please join Equality Now and our partners, Women Against Violence and Exploitation (WAVES), Women’s Partnership for Justice and Peace (WPJP), Graceland Sierra Leone, Child Welfare Society and the Education for All Coalition – Sierra Leone, by:

  • Calling on Sierra Leone to immediately act to stop the violence, punish the perpetrators and lift the ban on pregnant girls attending school.
  • Calling on international donors, especially the Governments of the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States, to urge Sierra Leone to provide a safe mainstream education for girls, and to ensure that education policies they fund address the broader issues of sexual violence and exploitation.

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