Esther Sifuma is the Project Administrator at CEI's East Africa Hub
The United Nations declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child to raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality around the world. It’s a day when activist groups come together under the same goal to highlight, discuss, and take action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere. At CEI we know that education is key in advancing rights and opportunities for girls.
We believe that education is one of the most critical areas of empowerment for women. Without education, most women in low income countries remain trapped in vicious poverty cycles. Recognizing this, governments, NGOs and other development activists have mounted several campaigns for the enrollment and retention of girls in school. Yet, girls face immense obstacles to completion of school. Teenage pregnancy is a leading cause of school dropout by girls. While teenage pregnancy remains a matter of great concern the world over, the problem is graver in low income countries where child pregnancies spell doom for adolescent mothers as they are then forced to drop out of school. Most of the dropouts don’t find a way back to school therefore steeply diminishing their opportunities for socioeconomic advancement.
In Kenya for instance, nearly 13,000 girls drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy every year. The statistics are no less disturbing in Uganda where the rate of child mothers is 25%. Government policies (such as the return to School policy established in 1994 in the case of Kenya) have unfortunately failed to mitigate the situation as communities are either unaware of them or ignore them all together as they are only sporadically enforced. All is not lost however, as there are innovative non-state education programs that are providing alternative choices to teenage mothers and enabling them access quality education and life skills training. This month, in recognition of the International Day of the Girl we highlight two of these programs- one in Kenya and one in Uganda as profiled on CEI.
HOPE for Teenage Mothers (HTM) (Kenya): HTM provides access to education for out-of-school teen mothers. HTM seeks to identify, rehabilitate, and empower the most vulnerable teenage mothers in Kenya. The project aims to enable these teenage mothers’ access economic and educational opportunities through formal education, vocational training, and skills building. By providing access to education for teen mothers, HTM addresses the social and emotional learning needs of these young female students; including identifying their strengths and goals, discussing the importance of completing their secondary school education, and identifying a career path that will maximize their ability to function independently as a young parent. Click on the link to learn more about the program.
Pader Girls’ Academy (Uganda): Pader Girls’ Academy offers secondary school and vocational training to girls victimized from the war in Northern Uganda. These girls are vulnerable due to poverty, displacement and abduction during the insurgency and were unable to attend or complete formal education. The Academy targets child mothers and vulnerable girls of gender based violence, poverty and displacement including their babies and offers heavily subsidized care, education and training. This innovative program offers the student holistic support through secondary school or vocational training as well as day care facilities and ECD to their own children freeing the child mother to focus on her studies and excel knowing her child is well taken care of.
What More can Non State Actors in the Sector do?
Beyond the two programs on the CEI platform featured here, there is a lot of room for more programs that focus on the problem of school dropout caused by teenage motherhood. This is especially since the policy environment in Kenya and Uganda provides possible avenues of engagement for programs. In Kenya for instance, there is need for programs that focus on the dissemination awareness creation and monitoring of implementation and compliance to the provisions of the re-entry policy to students, parents, teachers and entire communities. Additionally, there’s need for the petitioning of education officials in charge of the ministry to ensure that schools are complying with the requirements of the policy. Understanding of this policy will help to mitigate instances where school heads either expel teen mothers on suspicion of pregnancy or refuse to re-admit them once they have given birth. Awareness among pupils will ensure that they are empowered with the knowledge that pregnancy need not be the end of school.
In Uganda on the other hand, while there is no specific policy for retention of pregnant girls and re-entry of teenage mothers in school, there is no legal or policy position preventing it either. The biggest obstacle noted by studies done on the issue is attitude, the attitude of parents, teachers and school managers fuelled by ignorance and retrogressive cultural beliefs. Programs can change the fate of teenage mothers by educating societies on the need to allow and support teenager mothers’ retention and re-entry into schools. After all legal regimes as the Education Act 2008, Education for All (EFA), Universal Primary School 1997 and Universal Post Primary Education and Training (UPPET) 2007 call for universal education for all without discrimination. As we celebrate this year’s International Day of the Girl, let’s start working towards pushing for attitude change and policy implementation, a winning combination in keeping teenage mothers in school and in turn keeping their dreams alive.