Sierra Leone has overturned a ban on pregnant girls attending school in a victory for human rights activists who had fought against it for five years.
The West African country introduced the ban in 2015 after a rise in r.a.p.e, abuse and poverty during the deadly Ebola outbreak fueled a spike in teenage pregnancies.
The government held that allowing pregnant girls to attend school would tire them out, expose them to ridicule and encourage other girls to get pregnant, while critics said the ban increased stigma and set thousands back in their studies.
“The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education… hereby announces that the ‘ban on pregnant girls attending school’ is overturned with immediate effect,” the government said in a statement.
“Overturning the ban is the first step in building a radically inclusive Sierra Leone where all children are able to live and learn in safety and dignity.”
After years of advocacy proved unfruitful, human rights groups filed a case against Sierra Leone with West Africa’s top court in 2018.
The court ruled in their favour in December, saying the ban was discriminatory and violated the right to equal education.
“It’s been such a long fight,” said Sierra Leonean child rights activist Chernor Bah.
“We didn’t need to have gone through this. I feel for those girls who were abandoned by this policy, who went through all of this and who, most of them, will never probably recover,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Education Minister David Sengeh said the state would replace the ban with two new policies focused on “radical inclusion” and “comprehensive safety” in the education system.