Dear Minister Mabumba,
Please accept our regards on behalf of Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch is an independent, non-governmental human rights organization that monitors and reports on human rights in more than 90 countries globally. One of our focus areas is the right to education.
We are writing to share our findings on the implementation of Zambia’s Re-entry Policy, as well as to make recommendations to ensure Zambia provides equal education for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers.
We would also like to share our most recent report, Leave No Girl Behind in Africa: Discrimination in Education against Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers, which focuses on pregnancy discrimination in education across the African Union. We examined national laws, policies, and practices that block or support pregnant girls and adolescent mothers’ right to primary and secondary education in all African Union member countries. In this report, we outline recommendations for rights-compliant pregnancy management policies, including in schools, drawing on extensive Human Rights Watch research on the rights of girls in Africa. For example, our report finds that re-entry policies are stronger when they are accompanied by an implementation plan that outlines obligations, monitoring of re-entry and retention of adolescent parents, among other important indicators of its successful implementation. We hope that your government finds the report helpful as you promote the rights of all girls to education.
We recognize that Zambia is one of the first countries in the African Union to adopt a re-entry policy, demonstrating the government’s commitment to protect adolescent girls’ right to stay in school during pregnancy and motherhood. Zambia’s re-entry policy, which we included as a positive example in our report, has been used to inform other policies for countries across sub-Saharan Africa. We also welcome the government’s development of the National Strategy to End Child Marriage, an important step forward in the protection of rights for adolescent girls in Zambia.
We encourage Zambia to build on its efforts to secure the re-entry policy by adopting stronger measures to protect pregnant girls and adolescent mothers’ right to education.
Barriers to Re-entry in Zambia
As part of our research, in June 2018 we met with civil society groups focusing on girls’ education in Zambia. Based on these consultations, we found that the re-entry policy is not fully implemented across the country, in particular because there is a lack of awareness and training on the policy in schools and communities, and monitoring of adolescent mothers’ re-entry to education remains weak overall.
Evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch suggests that physical copies of the re-entry policy guidelines are not present in all schools and in community centers. For example, the current policy stipulates that after a student’s pregnancy is detected, the school and the student’s parent should enter into an agreement by signing a document noting a date on which the adolescent mother will return to school. Several civil society groups reported to Human Rights Watch that students and parents do not widely receive support from school officials, such as assistance with this required paperwork, or information relevant to the re-entry policy requirements.
Pregnant girls and adolescent mothers also experience stigma and bullying from peers and teachers, another possibility that may deter their return to school. School-based counseling support to girls throughout pregnancy and motherhood is not widely available.
Our consultations also showed some instances where adolescent mothers are discriminated against when they try to return to school. Civil society groups have found that this is particularly the case for adolescent mothers attending faith-based schools, who are routinely asked to enroll in a different school.
Given the challenges faced by pregnant students and adolescent mothers, we strongly urge you to adopt comprehensive approaches to support young mothers to continue with education, while tackling the root causes of early and unplanned teenage pregnancies. We recommend that these approaches are in line with the government’s human rights obligation to guarantee the right to education without any form of discrimination, and ensure adolescents are provided with adequate access to sexual and reproductive health services and information, including through comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health education at school.
Human Rights Watch encourages the government of Zambia to implement the following recommendations to fully ensure adolescent girls who are pregnant or become mothers do succeed in education:
Reform the Existing Policy by Introducing Greater Flexibility
- Consider adopting a new policy that focuses on guaranteeing compulsory education for all girls, introduces greater flexibility based on students’ needs, and facilitates their return. For example, remove clauses that stipulate a conditional period of time for students to drop-out or to return to school, and remove burdensome technical processes.
- Expedite new regulations that facilitate pregnant girls and young mothers of school-going age returning to primary and secondary school, and include clear instructions for all education institutions.
- Provide logistical support to students who are pregnant, married, or mothers, such as assistance with completing required re-entry policy paperwork.
- Train and provide guidance to teachers and other education officials to support the education of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, and to ensure schools guarantee a safe school environment, including by providing confidential avenues to report sexual harassment and sexual violence.
- Regularly monitor whether schools are enforcing the re-entry policy, and introduce meaningful repercussions for schools that do not carry out the policy, including faith-based schools.
- Ensure schools have adequate resources to provide school-based counselling services for students who are pregnant, married, or mothers.
Develop an Implementation Plan
- Work with civil society actors to adopt a strong implementation plan and ensure this plan includes very specific guidance to ensure the principles of the policy are fully respected by school officials, teachers, and education staff.
- Ensure the implementation plan includes monitoring to follow up on and keep track of girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or marriage, with the aim of initiating their return to school and improving support for pregnant and adolescent mothers.
Awareness Raising on the Policy and Harms of Teenage Pregnancy
- Ensure wider outreach of the policy and regulations, informing school and community actors of its application, including by providing physical copies of the re-entry policy in all schools, youth-focused services, and in community and health centers.
- Provide access to information to parents, guardians, and community leaders about the harmful physical, educational, and psychological effects of adolescent pregnancy and the importance of pregnant girls and young mother continuing with school.
We thank you for taking into consideration Human Rights Watch’s recommendations. We would be pleased to continue dialogue on these recommendations and meet with you in the future.