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Submission to the Committee on the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child on the Republic of Congo

39th Ordinary Session, 2022

This submission relates to the review of the Republic of Congo under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. This submission focuses on barriers to realizing the right to education, particularly the rights of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, and the country’s efforts to protect education from attack during armed conflict.

Barriers to the Right to Primary and Secondary Education (article 11)

The Republic of Congo continues to face high rates of teenage pregnancy according to UN Population Fund data: 111 per 1000 girls and women ages 15-19 gave birth.[1] While disparities in school enrollment between girls and boys have been reduced at the primary level, there is a drastic drop in gender parity between lower and upper secondary education.[2] Education for many girls suffers as a result of early marriage and pregnancy.[3]

The Republic of Congo is among 23 countries that lack a policy or law to protect pregnant girls’ and adolescent mothers' right to education, based on research by Human Rights Watch across all African Union member countries.[4] The country’s 2016 Girls’ Education Strategy recognizes the need to protect pregnant students against educational exclusion, but does not specify how the government intends to practically address the challenges faced by students who are pregnant or are adolescent mothers.[5]

Human Rights Watch has found that a lack of positive protections often leads to irregular enforcement of education at the school level, where school officials can decide what happens with a pregnant girl’s education. Policies adopted by governments should ensure that pregnant students and young mothers are allowed to remain in school for as long as they choose, are able to resume their education free from complex processes for withdrawal and re-entry, and can complete their education with adequate social and financial support.[6] 

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee asks the government of the Republic of Congo:

  • What steps is the government taking to ensure girls at risk of dropping out are socially and financially supported?
  • What steps is the government taking to tackle barriers that impede the retention of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers in school, including school fees and indirect costs?
  • What policy or regulatory measures will the government adopt to fully support pregnant students and adolescent parents to return and remain in school, and ensure school compliance with government policies?
  • What special accommodations are provided for young mothers at school, such as time for breast-feeding or flexibility when babies are ill?
  • What programs are in place to ensure access to nurseries or early childhood centers close to schools?
  • What school-based counselling programs are provided for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers?

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Adopt a human rights compliant policy that protects the right to primary and secondary education for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers; and monitor schools’ compliance with the policy.
  • Guarantee that students who are pregnant, mothers and/or married students are able to continue their education after giving birth, without impediment or burdensome procedures, and ensure schools are free from stigma and discrimination;
  • Address financial, procedural, and systemic barriers that inhibit adolescent mothers from continuing their education.

Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (articles 11 and 22)

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[7] 

The Safe Schools Declaration has been endorsed by 114 states, including 34 African countries. The African Union Peace and Security Council has urged all African countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. The Republic of Congo is yet to endorse this important declaration.

Human Rights Watch encourages the Committee to make the following recommendations:

  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and incorporate the declaration’s standards in domestic policy, military operational frameworks, and legislation.

[1] “Republic of Congo Country Page,” UNFPA, https://www.unfpa.org/data/CG.

[2] Republique du Congo, “Stratégie Sectorielle de L’Education 2015-2020,” https://www.globalpartnership.org/fr/content/plan-sectoriel-de-leducation-2015-2025-republique-du-congo (accessed March 04,2022), pp. 40-41.

[3] “Leave No Girl behind in Africa:  Discrimination in Education against Pregnant Girls and Adolescent  Mothers,”  Human Rights Watch, June  14, 2018,  https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/au0618_web.pdf; The World Bank Group, “Girls’ Education” https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/girlseducation#1 (last updated February 10, 2022).

[4] “Leave No Girl behind in Africa.”

[5] Republique du Congo, “Stratégie Nationale de Scolarisation de la Fille en Republique du Congo 2016,” https://planipolis.iiep.unesco.org/en/2016/strat%C3%A9gie-nationale-de-scolarisation-de-la-fille-en-r%C3%A9publique-du-congo-7070 (accessed March 04, 2022), pp. 27-28.

[6] “Leave No Girl behind in Africa,” pp. 10-11.

[7] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

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