(AA) – Girls impregnated during Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak have decried a recent government decision banning them from returning to school until they had delivered.
“If schools had been open, I would not have got pregnant,” Hannah Kabia, a junior at Rokel Agricultural Secondary School in Rokel village outside capital Freetown, told The Anadolu Agency.
“But because I sat a whole year idle, I fell along the line,” she explained.
Schools in Sierra Leone reopened on April 14 after an almost yearlong hiatus due to the Ebola outbreak.
Since last year, Ebola – a contagious disease for which there is no known treatment or cure – has killed 10,704 people, mostly in West Africa, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report issued on April 15.
In Sierra Leone alone, the virus has claimed a total of 3,857 lives to date.
But with the resumption of schooling, the Education Ministry decided to ban pregnant students from returning to school, claiming they would demotivate their colleagues.
Brimah Micheal Turay, a spokesman for the ministry, said the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the body which conducts all public exams in West Africa, had made it clear to S. Leonean officials that WAEC would not allow pregnant girls to take their exams because of safety reasons.
”The message we want to send is that school girls should abstain from sex or protect themselves,” he told AA. “This is where good parenting comes in.”
But many of the girls affected by the school ban feel they are being victimized.
“My plan was to continue my schooling… until I could sit for my promotional exams,” Kabia told AA.
“But this regulation has killed that idea,” she fumed.
Kabia said she had lost her breadwinner and four other relatives to Ebola.
“Now my education is at stake,” she added.
“How can they force me to stay at home for a whole year after completing another year of waiting?” Kabia fumed.
Emma Sesay, another junior secondary school student, echoed these sentiments.
“This decision is like a punishment,” she told AA. “When I see my colleagues walking to school, I feel guilty of a crime I did not commit.”
“But having to sit for a whole year without doing anything made me a victim of teenage pregnancy,” she insisted.
Fatmata, an 18-year-old junior secondary school student, likewise dismissed the ban as “discriminatory.”
Pa Hassan Kamara, the 53-year-old headman of the community, also criticized the government decision.
He fears the measure will increase the dropout rate among girls of the community, which was hard-hit by Ebola.
“I want the government to rethink its decision,” Kamara told AA. “This move is sure to reduce the number of educated girls in my community.”