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Sierra Leone bans girls who got pregnant during Ebola break from school

Sierra Leone's Education Minister, Minkailu Bah, has said girls who are visibly pregnant will not be allowed to join their classmates in primary and secondary schools.

A pregnant Sierra Leonean woman

Female Sierra Leonean students who got pregnant during the eight-month long Ebola Virus Disease induced break will not be allowed to return to school, the country's government has said.

Sierra Leone's Education Minister, Minkailu Bah, said girls who are visibly pregnant will not be allowed to join their classmates in primary and secondary schools.

Schools were shut as the highly contagious Ebola disease spread to Sierra Leone in May 2014, eventually infecting about 11,301 people and killing 3,461, according to the Wikipedia.

The girls, who have already lost 8-months of education, would feel double pain with the announcement.

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But, after a meeting of the Conference of Principals, the country's principals agreed to support Bah's announcement.

The chairman of the Conference of Principals, Sylvester Meheux, said the decision to keep pregnant student away from the classrooms is to protect the other girls.

"In our own culture, in the secondary school, they don't allow girls who are visibly pregnant to go and take exams," Meheux said.

"We have a belief that it will encourage other girls to do the same thing.

"Others will copy that example, and we'll have a lot of them [pregnant girls] in our school system."

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Meheux explained that pregnant girls need to be counselled, especially with the 'distractions' of pregnancy.

"Education is a discipline. In the absence of discipline, learning doesn't take place," he said.

"You should also realise that when someone is pregnant, you have some distractions, things that will not make you compose yourself, to take your education seriously."

Amnesty International's West Africa researcher, Sabrina Mahtani, told rfi English that the government's decision is discrimination.

"This is not a favour [to pregnant girls], this is a fundamental human right to education," Mahtani said.

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"And these girls have a right not to be discriminated against, and also have a right not to be stigmatised just because they're girls."

She argues that some of the girls got pregnant in circumstances beyond their control.

"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," she said.

It is an unspoken rule in Sierra Leone's education system that pregnant girls will not be allowed to mix with girls who are not pregnant.

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