In a remarkable victory, Sierra Leone overturned its ban preventing pregnant girls from attending school on Monday, according to a press release from Equality Now.
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio announced the end of the ban in a statement on Monday, in which he claimed that his government is working on creating a more inclusive nation.
“We have a moral and constitutional duty to protect the girl child and to change her outcomes,” Bio said in the statement.
The ban was first introduced in 2015 after the country experienced an increase in teenage pregnancies following the Ebola outbreak.
Sierra Leone had the 13th highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world in 2017, according to the World Bank, with 113 births per 1,000 teenagers.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice ruled that the ban was unlawful and ordered the government to lift it immediately, in December 2019.
The case was filed by Women Against Violence in Society (WAVES), Child Welfare Society, and Equality Now in May 2018.
In the ruling, the court found that Sierra Leone had violated the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention Against Discrimination in Education.
The law not only prevented pregnant girls from attending mainstream schools, but it also set up alternative schools, where girls could only learn four subjects and attend class three days a week.
Now that the ban has been overturned, pregnant girls will be able to attend school with the rest of their peers for the first time in five years.
“This is wonderful news! It is a recognition in Sierra Leone that girls have a right to learn; that girls have rights! That the girl child is an equal human being to her male counterparts in society,” Equality Now’s Regional Coordinator for Africa Judy Gitau said in the press release.
“The huge task ahead is that of implementing these policies so that the vulnerabilities that resulted in girls getting pregnant in the first place, key among these being sexual violence and sexual exploitation, are fully addressed,” Gitau said. “We nonetheless celebrate this decision.”