Burundi recently announced a ban that will prevent pregnant girls and expectant fathers from attending formal schooling, sparking immediate backlash from human rights groups and other advocates. In a letter to local educators and authorities, the east African nation’s minister of education instructed that pregnant teens and young mothers, as well as the boys that impregnate them, would no longer be permitted to attend public and private schools. The students would, however, be allowed to receive vocational or professional training.

Advocates have expressed opposition to the ban, arguing that the policy will disproportionately harm teenage girls as it will be difficult to identify and prove fatherhood. “How does the government prove that Boy A impregnated Boy B?” asked human rights lawyer Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge of gender justice organization Equality Now. “This ban disproportionately affects girls and it is skewed towards an abuse of the girls’ rights to education,” she said. Nyamu-Mathenge stressed the importance of girls’ education, adding that denying girls education could lead to other abuses.

Burundi already has high rates of sexual and gender-based violence, and four in 10 survivors of violence are teenage girls aged 15-19. Seven percent of girls of the same age have at least one child, and one in five women are married below the age of 18, according to the United Nations Populations Fund. Girls living in poverty are particularly vulnerable, with some having sex in exchange for basic items like sanitary products or school fees. This heightens their risk of becoming pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted infection.

Other African countries–including Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania–have instituted similar policies. Sierra Leone’s ban is currently being challenged in a regional court, and the verdict could serve as a precedent for other countries.

 

– Anna Katz, Communications Intern

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