UGANDA: Teenage mothers and pregnant girls defy tradition and successfully campaign to return to education
KAMPALA, 1 June – As the UK Prime Minister brings the leaders of the G7 together this month to discuss the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including plans for getting children safely back into education, a group of teenage mothers and pregnant girls in Uganda have used the power of collective action to ensure they can return to learning.
Today, thousands of children in more than 50 countries across the world will join them to take action to fight for their education.
In Uganda, girls who fall pregnant often drop out of school, as government guidance requires them to withdraw from school when they are three months pregnant until six months after giving birth. Many of them struggle to return to school at all due to barriers like social stigma, lack of childcare or financial support.
Faced with this situation, a group of 52 teenage mothers and pregnant girls have successfully appealed to re-enrol in catch-up learning so they might get the opportunity to return to school.
16 year old Sunday* is five months pregnant. Along with ten other girls who have fallen pregnant or given birth during the lockdown period, Sunday is getting the education she needs, through Save the Children’s ‘Accelerated Education Programme’ in a refugee settlement in West Nile, Uganda.
“During the lockdown, some girls got pregnant. Some have got married. And some have not come back to school. Other people say that pregnant girls should not come to school. And that when you’re no longer pregnant you shouldn’t come [back] to school either.
“After having my baby, I want to come back to school and study because I want to become an accountant. I love our school because it’s welcoming. Also, I love our teachers because they teach us every day.”
Sunday* and other girls in West Nile called for a return to the classroom for catch-up classes and asked for better provisions to do so, including: child-friendly spaces for their children to play while they learn; childcare – a major barrier to young mothers returning to education; and school provisions such as books and pens. Save the Children supported the girls in their requests, enabling them to return to education in a safe environment and to take control of their own futures.
These girls are just some of the thousands of children in more than 50 countries across the world who are using their platform today to kick off Save the Children’s ‘100 Days of Action’. These 100 days will see children, supported by the child rights organisation, partners and supporters, use the power of collective action to push education to the top of world leaders’ agendas.
Save the Children’s analysis shows that while the Prime Minister has made girls’ education a rhetorical priority, cuts to the aid budget include a 40 percent reduction to education. This will impact more than a million children living in the world’s toughest countries.
The organisation is calling for the UK to urgently reverse these cuts and work with other governments, parents, and communities to remove barriers for all children, including pregnant girls and young mothers, so that they can return to education.
The child rights organisation is also urging G7 leaders to put the future of girls front and centre of their decision-making at the G7 Summit and beyond.
Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns of Save the Children UK said:
“The fact that today, thousands of children around the world are demanding their basic right to education must inspire leaders everywhere that they can and must prioritise children’s learning.
“The Prime Minister has rightly made girls’ education a priority, but without the right investment, this is just an empty promise. The UK Government should reverse the aid cuts, make tangible commitments to turn the targets they initiated in the G7 Girls’ Education Declaration a reality and invest £600 million over the next 5 years in the Global Partnership for Education in addition to the £400 million already committed to girls’ education this year.
“The pandemic has brought with it a global education emergency alongside a health one. If leaders are to crack all these crises, they need to start by listening to children about the kind of world they want to inherit.”
*names have been changed