Human rights

African leaders meet in Niger to support girls’ rights

(Nairobi) – African leaders are expected to prioritize the education of pregnant girls and married adolescent girls at the Third African Girls Summit in Niamey, Niger, November 16-18, 2021. Governments attending the summit are expected to focus on commit to strengthening the protection of human rights for girls’ education.

Even though many governments in Africa have protective laws and policies, hundreds of thousands of girls and young women in Africa are denied an education because they are pregnant, married or mothers. Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire are among the countries that guarantee girls the right to continue school during pregnancy and after childbirth. However, governments such as Tanzania have policies that prohibit or expel pregnant girls or teenage mothers from school. Even where laws and policies exist on girls’ education, protections for pursuing education, as well as implementation and compliance, vary.

“The Third African Girls Summit underscores the growing commitment of African leaders to end discrimination against girls, but governments must take additional steps to ensure that all girls can enjoy their childhood and contribute to the development of their society, ”said Agnes Odhiambo, senior women’s rights researcher and Nairobi bureau chief at Human Rights Watch. “African governments should ensure access to education for all girls by providing clear school and community plans to help pregnant women or mothers return to school and succeed in their studies. “

The summit platform brings together stakeholders from across the region and beyond to galvanize support to end harmful practices against girls in Africa. Participants include the African Union and its human rights entities, national governments and political leaders, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, girls and youth, and traditional leaders.

Although there is legal and political recognition of the right of all girls and women to education in many African countries, there remains a large gap for them to go to school and stay until graduation. Many girls, for example, lack the financial and psychosocial support, or mental health, to continue their education during pregnancy or after childbirth.

The African Union and its human rights bodies can provide further guidance and take action to ensure the effective implementation of girls’ and women’s right to education.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) should consider issuing guidance in the form of a commentary general, Human Rights Watch said. A general commentary could provide detailed guidance to countries on their legal obligations to provide equal education for girls and women without discrimination, and ensure effective monitoring of compliance.

Model policies are an established strategy to push for policy change on the African continent. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has developed two model laws – one on ending child marriage and the other on HIV in Africa – which have spurred political dialogue and change in the region. . The African Union Commission (AUC) should also consider developing and popularizing a regional policy model to ensure the continuing education of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers and the “reintegration” of those who drop out of school. said Human Rights Watch.

To support these efforts, African human rights bodies should consider conducting a regional study on the state of education of pregnant, married and mother learners, Human Rights Watch said. The African Commission should appoint a special rapporteur on education who would liaise with other bodies to conduct the study and monitor implementation. Many government officials have told Human Rights Watch over the years that there is a need to identify gaps, gaps, and good practices to help pregnant girls and teenage mothers go to school.

African governments also need to tackle widespread early pregnancy, which pushes many girls out of school and contributes to abuses such as child marriage. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, countries in sub-Saharan Africa had the highest teenage birth rates in the world. For a variety of reasons, which may have included prolonged school closures, poor child protection, poor knowledge and loss of access to sexual and reproductive health services, the pandemic has resulted in increased pregnancies among children. adolescent girls in many African countries, according to the UN, media and civil society reports.

African governments should adopt compulsory national school curricula covering sexual and reproductive health and rights, responsible sexual behavior, healthy relationship building, prevention of pregnancy and early marriage, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, gender equality, and awareness and prevention of sexual and sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, Human Rights Watch said. Evidence-based technical advice shows that children should be introduced to age-appropriate content about sexuality and reproductive health in primary school, before puberty.

“African governments should respect the right to education of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers not only by opening the doors of schools, but also by putting in place comprehensive measures to address their challenges and their needs so that they remain in school. school, ”said Odhiambo. “The African Union as a whole should show greater leadership and systematically promote the education of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers.

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