My family was counting on me, but I have disappointed them. This blatant injustice was the result of a policy which was introduced in April , just before schools re-opened following the Ebola crisis, banning visibly pregnant girls from attending school and taking exams. The impact of this discriminatory law was amplified by the fact that the Ebola crisis saw a spike in teenage pregnancies, due to a combination of factors including months of school closures and a surge in sexual violence during the outbreak. Rugiatu was aware of how a lack of access to education is likely to keep her and her entire family in the poor conditions they are living in. Many girls whose parents had died were forced to have sex with men in exchange for protection or food. Rugiatu was one of hundreds of girls who I interviewed with my Amnesty International colleagues in focus groups that year.
Sierra Leone overturns ban on pregnant schoolgirls
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Adolescent pregnancies are a global problem but occur most often in poorer and marginalised communities. Many girls face considerable pressure to marry early and become mothers while they are still a child. Teenage pregnancy increases when girls are denied the right to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and well-being. Girls must be able to make their own decisions about their bodies and futures and have access to appropriate healthcare services and education. Girls who have received minimal education are 5 times more likely to become a mother than those with higher levels of education. Pregnant girls often drop out of school, limiting opportunities for future employment and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
A second chance at schooling for pregnant teenagers in Ebola-affected Sierra Leone
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This is no ordinary school. Many of the girls and young women like year-old Adama Conteh tell a similar story: living in vulnerable households, the rejection that came with becoming pregnant, and the immediate end to their regular schooling. Visibly pregnant girls are not allowed to attend school in Sierra Leone.