Classrooms are filling up again in Sierra Leone now that the Ebola crisis is under control, but the outbreak didn’t only claim the lives of some students; it also created an environment that led to a spike in pregnancies, RFI reports. That, too, is affecting attendance, since pregnant girls are not allowed to come to school to take exams or associate with schoolgirls who are not pregnant.
A researcher with Amnesty International described the domino effect that happened during the Ebola outbreak, and how women and teenagers found themselves living in an environment in which they were incentivized to have sex or were subjected to sexual assault.
“Many of these girls have already been very disadvantaged over the last eight months, having been impacted by the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone,” Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher, explained. “And there has been a reported increase in sexual violence, as well as a reported increase in pressure on girls to engage in transactional sex due to the very harsh economic impacts of Ebola.”
A principal in Sierra Leone said that the new pregnancy statute is in place because they don’t want girls who aren’t pregnant to be tempted to have sex and get pregnant. “We have a belief that it will encourage other girls to do the same thing,” Sylvester Meheux, chairman of an association of Sierra Leonean principals, said. “Others will copy that example, and we’ll have a lot of them [pregnant girls] in our school system.”
The country’s education minister said that he suspects sexual coercion is at play, since teenage sex is taboo in Sierra Leone. “It’s one of those aspects of our culture that doesn’t really make sense … having sex is supposed to be unacceptable,” Minkailu Bah explained.
“Now we know that most kids are having sex, and particularly girls, they’re not having sex out of choice,” Bah continued. He referenced a 2008 statistic that found that for young women between the ages of 15 and 24, 85 percent of them said they were forced to have sex with a man at least 10 years older, RFI reports.
Read more at RFI.