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Mozambique: Pregnant Students, Adolescent Mothers Leave School

Instruct Educators on Obligations, Improve Reproductive Health Services

Girls walk out of the main entrance of a public school in Nacala, Mozambique, July 4, 2018. © 2018 Gianluigi Guercia/APF via Getty Images
  • Pregnant or parenting adolescent girls and women drop out of school in Mozambique because they don’t get adequate support from schools.
  • Girls who become parents often experience discrimination, stigma, and a lack of support and accommodation that makes juggling school and childcare responsibilities impossible. The lack of free education pushes many girls from the poorest households out of school.
  • Mozambique should adopt legally enforceable regulations to ensure girls’ right to education during pregnancy and parenthood, and provide comprehensive sexuality education and childcare.

(Maputo) – Many adolescent girls and women in Mozambique, who are pregnant or parenting, drop out of school because they face huge barriers and get inadequate support from schools at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Even though Mozambique’s government revoked discriminatory measures against pregnant students and adolescent mothers over five years ago, many teachers and education and school officials lack clear instructions on protecting their right to education.

The 52-page report, “‘Girls Shouldn’t Give Up On Their Studies’: Pregnant Girls’ and Adolescent Mothers’ Struggle to Stay in School in Mozambique,” documents numerous barriers faced by adolescent girls and women who are pregnant or parenting, and the problems they face when trying to stay in school. Students also lack or are denied access to sexual and reproductive health information, especially comprehensive sexuality education, as well as adolescent-responsive sexual and reproductive health services, including a wide range of contraceptive options and safe, legal abortion to the fullest extent allowed by law.

“Girls who become parents at a very young age often experience discrimination, stigma, and a lack of support and accommodations at school that make it impossible for many to juggle schooling and childcare responsibilities,” said Elin Martinez, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These combined barriers means that many, if not most, pregnant or parenting girls drop out of school without completing their basic education.”

In 2003, the Mozambican government adopted a ministerial order that mandated school officials to move pregnant girls and adolescent mothers from daytime schools to night-shift schools, building on an existing infrastructure used for adult basic education. This order effectively authorized and cemented discrimination against these students in the national education system, denying pregnant or parenting female students the right to study in primary and secondary schools along with their peers.

Civil society groups in Mozambique led a campaign that successfully pressed the education ministry to revoke the order, remove discriminatory barriers against girls who are pregnant or parents, and protect girls from widespread sexual violence in schools. In December 2018, the government revoked the 2003 order and instructed schools to enable pregnant and parenting students to study during the regular school day.

Through the removal of its discriminatory policy, the government has shown political will to advance girls’ education, Human Rights Watch said. However, it has struggled to turn this positive policy into reality at the school level and to tackle the enormous systemic and social barriers girls face to stay in school. Human Rights Watch found that some teachers and school authorities automatically referred students to night-shift schools due to stigma, existing discriminatory practices, or unclear or no guidance from officials. Other teachers did support or encourage female students to stay in schools.

Pregnant and parenting girls, like many secondary school students in Mozambique, also drop out of school because of the lack of free education, as well as other systemic and financial barriers that disproportionately affect girls from the poorest households. These include the high cost of education linked to tuition and enrollment fees, payments for school uniforms and other indirect costs, and the often long and sometimes unsafe distances to schools or the cost of transportation.

Childcare responsibilities also make it impossible for many young mothers to go to school. The government should ensure that students are supported and encouraged to stay in school by setting up childcare and early childhood education facilities that are easily accessible to parenting students.

The Mozambican government should adopt legally enforceable regulations to ensure girls’ right to education during pregnancy and parenthood, Human Rights Watch said. The government should give due consideration to the experiences and views of adolescent girls and women and learn from other African countries’ experiences, to define its own human rights-compliant policy framework to successfully address pregnant and parenting adolescents’ needs.

The government should also ensure that all children have access to scientifically accurate, age- and stage-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education and free and robust adolescent-responsive reproductive health services, including access to abortion to the fullest extent allowed by the law.

“Mozambique’s government faces enormous challenges in advancing adolescent girls’ right to education,” Martinez said. “The Ministry of Education and Human Development should send a strong signal of its commitment to gender equality by swiftly adopting ministerial instructions to ensure that all schools and teachers understand their obligations.”

Key data about girls’ education in Mozambique:

  • Mozambique has the fifth highest rate of child marriage in the world.
  • Mozambique’s adolescent pregnancy rate is the highest in East and Southern Africa: 180 out of 1000 girls and young women ages 15 to 19 gave birth in 2023, in contrast with the regional average of 94 births per 1000 girls.
  • At least 1 in 10 girls has had a child before age 15, according to the United Nations.
  • A 2019 study of data collected over time of primary school dropouts in Mozambique found that 70 percent of pregnant girls, of whom many were still enrolled in primary school past puberty due to their late enrollment, dropped out of school.
  • In 2022, only 41 percent of girls completed lower secondary. In 2020, only 4 percent of girls completed upper secondary.

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