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African Union Conference Addresses Pregnant and Parenting Students

Need to Adopt Human Rights-Focused Framework

A secondary school student who is pregnant holds a doll inside her home in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya on September 30, 2020. © 2020 Monicah Mwangi/Reuters

The African Union Commission and its specialized agency on girls and women’s education is currently hosting a conference in Addis Ababa with government ministers, education experts, and civil society representatives to accelerate progress on girls’ and women’s education.

Fifty-one million girls are out of school across Africa. Globally, nine of the ten countries with the highest education exclusion rates for girls are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to recent UNESCO data.

It is encouraging that issues faced by pregnant and parenting students are firmly on the agenda. One in every five girls in Africa is pregnant before age 19. Thousands of girls who are pregnant or parenting are not in school. Girls often face insurmountable barriers to staying in school, which leads to low school retention and even lower completion.

Girls experience the consequences of prevailing negative and discriminatory policies, and attitudes  often push them to end their education abruptly. Human Rights Watch’s comprehensive index shows mixed practices in how AU member countries hinder or protect girls’ right to education. While most African countries have policies related to pregnant or parenting students, the responses of many governments are lacking. To address girls’ needs, governments should find an approach that binds education, health, and social protection systems to adequately support girls who are bearing the brunt of becoming parents at a very young age.

This is where the African Union plays a key role: it should tap into its convening power and ability to propose AU-wide policy frameworks to guide member states in effectively implementing human rights obligations.

At the Addis Ababa conference, AU institutions, including its human rights bodies, should encourage African governments to proactively examine education policy frameworks and their implementation in schools. They should also heed calls for the AU to work on a continental framework to guide governments on the rights of girls who are pregnant or parenting. The AU and other education actors supporting African governments should encourage all governments to adopt robust human rights-compliant policy frameworks to guide school officials, teachers, and others working in the education system.

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