Challenged by the high cases of sexual offences against girls during the Covid-19 lockdown, government has instructed schools to allow pregnant girls back to class as schools re-open next month.
On September 20, President Yoweri Museveni in a televised address allowed education institution to re-open on October 15 for candidates preparing for national exams as well as finalists at college, university and other tertiary institutions offering health science-related courses.
The schools have been closed for nearly seven months, a period that exposed girls to sexual abuse. Between March and July, the police recorded more than 21,000 cases of sexual abuse against underage girls, some of whom are reported to have conceived.
This has forced the government to relax its policy which allows pregnant learners to continue with their studies after delivering. Under the new guidelines which are hoped to help senior male and female teachers deal with the pregnant finalists, the Ministry of Education and Sports has directed schools to allow finalists to continue learning even if they are expecting.
“We have all been in unprecedented times and we need to take that into account. We have asked all schools to allow all finalists no matter the state they are in to report to schools,” said Cleophas Mugenyi, the commissioner for basic education during the launch of a media campaign on Preventing Violence against Children.
An estimated 1.2 million learners are expected to go back to school next month. With the high cases of sexual violence being reported, Mugenyi says they believe many learners will be pregnant when they report.
Delphine Tumusiime Mugisha, the country director of Raising Voice, a child rights NGO, says that parents should use this opportunity to give their daughters a second chance that would ordinarily not be there.
However, some teachers find the instruction unrealistic. They say teaching pregnant students might be very complicated. Rhitah Namukasa, a secondary school teacher in Masaka district says at times expectant mothers have different needs which might not be met in a school environment, adding that forcing pregnant girls back to school may lead to discrimination as they could be looked at as rotten mangoes.
Edward Kanoonya, the headteacher of Kololo Secondary School says that at times, it’s the students who are more scared of being in school.
“We might be willing to have the students come back but often it’s them who hide and even avoid coming back [because] they are ashamed and would rather go to another school where they are unknown than coming back and continue studying while pregnant among their friends,” Kanoonya said.