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CRR: Unwanted pregnancies, early marriage force girls out of school during covid-19

May 28, 2021, 11:35 AM | Article By: Sulayman Waan

Numerous female students have dropped out from schools in the Central River Region of The Gambia as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19); The Point has been reliably informed.

It could be recalled that during the tense period of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, the government imposed restrictive measures aimed at controlling the spread of the deadly disease. Part of these restrictive measures was closure of all schools across the country.

Investigation mounted by this reporter has shown that many female students at the Central River Region’s (CRR) senior and junior schools have failed to return to their various schools after the seven months closure.

The research has also shown some girls were married and some were pregnant during the long period of school closure, while others dropped out due to financial constraints following economic meltdown by the pandemic.

According to anonymous source, a student of Armitage Senior Secondary – a school located at Janjangbureh, the CRR’s administrative capital; was sent home shortly after the school resume due to the fact that she was pregnant during seven months school closure.

“The girl was pregnant during the school closure. When school resumed she went back to class. But later on, the school’s principal, Sakuna Sibi was informed about her pregnancy and he then decided to send her out of the school,” the source disclosed.

Speaking to this medium at Janjanbureh Town, an expelled student (name withheld), due to her pregnancy, expressed disappointment on the school’s decision. She said she should have been allowed to continue her education despite her pregnancy.

She is now highly interested in continuing her education.

“I want to continue my education in order to get skills and knowledge to help my family,” she said while holding her baby.

Jabou Danso, aunty to the said drop-out, admitted that her daughter was pregnant during the closure of school in 2020. She added that the girl wanted to continue her education with the pregnancy but the school management expelled her claiming she was pregnant.

“When the girl came back home crying of being expelled, I rushed to the principal’s house and asked him why he expelled my niece. But he said the school’s rules do not allow any pregnant girl in the school,” she argued.

Another girl Joof, (not her real name), and a former student of Janjanbureh Upper Basic School also dropped out from school due her pregnancy during the seven months’ school closure.

Ms. Joof expressed willingness to continue her education but lacked family support. “I want to go back to school to continue my education but my father disagrees with my decision,” she noted.

Her grandfather said she dropped out as a result of her “surprising pregnancy” during school closure.

However, he also expressed interest for her to continue her education despite this situation.  

“I really want her to go back to school to acquire knowledge, “he expressed. 

In similar development, an impeccable source told The Point that Janjanbureh Upper Basic School lost three female students due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said all those students failed to go back to school after the schools reopened.

“But the school’s management later found out that two were married and one was pregnant during the pandemic,” our source said.

Another source at Buduck Basic Cycle School in the Nianija District, Central River Region north (CRR/n), said over three female students have left school due to the coronavirus.

The source said the entire dropped outs are either married or pregnant during the pandemic. 

Speaking to another anonymous source at the Karantaba Junior and Senior School in Sami District, CRR/n, it was revealed that six female students dropped out from that school in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The source said out of the six female students, one was pregnant and three (3) were married during the pandemic in 2020. However, the source added that reason (s) for withdrawal of the other two students is/are unknown to the school management.

“When the school was closed for long time last year they (dropped out students) failed to return to school to continue their education,” the source said.

Ousman Bah, father of one Salla Bah, a grade 12 private student at Farafenni Senior School, said the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened to drop her daughter from school.

He justified that Salla Bah has registered for private examination but the family has financial constraints to pay for her to sit for exams, which he said is caused by COVID-19 impact on peoples’ economy.

Ramatoulie Jallow, resident of Janjanbureh, said her daughter – Mariama Jallow – could not sit for the 2020 grade 12 private examinations owing to lack of money.

Mariama Jallow, however, expressed interest to continue her education, while calling on all and sundry to support her financially to ensure she completes her senior level education.

Dozens of female students have dropped out from school in CRR due to pregnancy, marriage and financial setbacks during the seven months school closure in 2020. 

However, Basiru L Bah, a law lecturer at the University of The Gambia (UTG) made a legal analysis on this matter, saying girls’ education is protected under Section 30 of the 1997 Constitution. This section, he said, provides for detailed protection of girl child rights to education.

“The Women’s Act 2020 specifically protects the rights of girl-child to education and prohibits early marriage and expulsion based on pregnancy,” the legal practitioner added.  

Musu Bakoto Sawo, renowned women right activist cum national coordinator for Think Young Women (TYW), described the series of girls’ dropping out of schools due to pregnancy and early marriage as shocking. She said the government must investigate the matters and hold perpetrators accountable.

The women's rights activists called on the government to put mechanisms in place to return the girls back to school so that they do not lose many opportunities.

“Education is a fundamental pillar to development, and women and girls equally have the right to contribute to that. It is an obligation of the government to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of its people and this is no exception,” she said.

Momodou Njie, director for Health Promotion and Education at the Ministry of Health, advised the public to take the coronavirus vaccine as well as adhere to preventive measures of the deadly disease.

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with Mai-Media and The Point

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