The African continent has the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world, according to the United Nations. Every year, thousands of girls become pregnant at the time when they should be learning history, algebra, and life skills. Adolescent girls who have early and unintended pregnancies face many social and financial barriers to continuing with formal education.

All girls have a right to education regardless of their pregnancy, marital or motherhood status. The right of pregnant—and sometimes married—girls to continue their education has evoked emotionally charged discussions across African Union member states in recent years. These debates often focus on arguments around “morality,” that pregnancy outside wedlock is morally wrong, emanating from personal opinions and experiences, and wide-ranging interpretations of religious teachings about sex outside of marriage. The effect of this discourse is that pregnant girls – and to a smaller extent, school boys who impregnate girls– have faced all kinds of punishments, including discriminatory practices that deny girls the enjoyment of their right to education. In some of the countries researched for this report, education is regarded as a privilege that can be withdrawn as a punishment.

Attacks on education by the insurgent group Boko Haram have caused horrific and long-term suffering for female students and teachers in northeastern Nigeria. Boko Haram has abducted over 600 girls and young women from school during the nine-year conflict, with some held in captivity for years, and many experiencing harmful repercussions long after they return home.

The 106-page report, “‘I Will Never Go Back to School’: Impact of Attacks on Education for Nigerian Women and Girls,” is based on interviews with 119 victims and eyewitnesses of attacks on schools and education, including survivors of the three largest school abductions in Nigeria: Chibok (April 2014), Damasak (November 2014), and Dapchi (February 2018). Women and girls speak out about their terrifying experiences, including forced conversion to Islam, forced “marriage,” rape, and other physical and psychological violence, in the report.

It has recently been suggested that the age of human rights is over. The West, itself often not respecting human rights, is said to have abused the concept as a tool to retain control over the developing world. Human rights have remained a foreign construct in Africa, the Near East, and Asia. They have "underperformed," and the level of privation in many parts of the world is more intense than ever. This Article acknowledges elements of truth in these observations, but argues that the battle for human rights is not lost. Using the right to education in Africa as an example, three arguments will be presented to explain how human rights can regain their moral cogency and actually help change a world of misery for the better. First, human rights need to be "domesticized," made "home-grown" achievements with which local populations can identify. Regional human rights institutions need to give specificity to universal norms. These "locally-owned" norms must then be effectively enforced. Second, pure "development goal" approaches to reducing global poverty need to be debunked. Instead, a human rights approach needs to identify clear duty-bearers, including notably the World Bank, who, when they have failed to comply with specified duties, should be considered "human rights violators" and held accountable accordingly. Third, and perhaps most importantly, human rights must be recognized to give rise to extraterritorial state obligations. These are obligations of states, in appropriate circumstances, to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of those beyond their own territory. The extraterritorial human rights obligations of states must structure bilateral development assistance and cooperation, the lending operations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and free trade within and beyond the World Trade Organization (here, meaning the General Agreement on Trade in Services and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

In this case, ISER successfully petitioned the High Court seeking declarations to the effect that the government policy on public financing of secondary education in Uganda infringes on the rights to; equality and non – discrimination; and quality education as guaranteed under Articles 21; and 30 and 34(2) of the Constitution respectively. The court directed that; government must ensure equity for all children in the design and implementation of education programs; and that government should take its lead position in regulating private involvement in education to ensure adherence to minimum standards – in doing so, it should make good use of the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of states to provide public education and regulate private involvement in education to offer the necessary guidance. ISER successfully petitioned the High Court seeking declarations to the effect that the government policy on public financing of secondary education in Uganda infringes on the rights to; equality and non – discrimination; and quality education as guaranteed under Articles 21; and 30 and 34(2) of the Constitution respectively. The court directed that; government must ensure equity for all children in the design and implementation of education programs; and that government should take its lead position in regulating private involvement in education to ensure adherence to minimum standards – in doing so, it should make good use of the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of states to provide public education and regulate private involvement in education to offer the necessary guidance. 

In this case,  ISER successfully petitioned the High Court seeking declarations to the effect that the government policy on public financing of secondary education in Uganda infringes on the rights to; equality and non – discrimination; and quality education as guaranteed under Articles 21; and 30 and 34(2) of the Constitution respectively. The court directed that; government must ensure equity for all children in the design and implementation of education programs; and that government should take its lead position in regulating private involvement in education to ensure adherence to minimum standards – in doing so, it should make good use of the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of states to provide public education and regulate private involvement in education to offer the necessary guidance. ISER successfully petitioned the High Court seeking declarations to the effect that the government policy on public financing of secondary education in Uganda infringes on the rights to; equality and non – discrimination; and quality education as guaranteed under Articles 21; and 30 and 34(2) of the Constitution respectively. The court directed that; government must ensure equity for all children in the design and implementation of education programs; and that government should take its lead position in regulating private involvement in education to ensure adherence to minimum standards – in doing so, it should make good use of the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of states to provide public education and regulate private involvement in education to offer the necessary guidance. 

Factsheet detailing the legal and policy framework in Kenya applicable to early and unintended pregnancy and the right to education. 

In Kenya, teenage pregnancy almost certainly means the end of a girl’s education. It remains one of the main reasons why girls do not complete their education—keeping an estimated 13,000 girls out of school each year. 

This photo essay is the culmination of interviews with government officials, policy experts, human rights activists and the girls themselves. It identifies systemic failings in the education system, uncovers the barriers to returning to school—including stigmatisation, school fees, and lack of childcare—and recommends actions to ensure girls’ human rights are respected.

Start reading, here.

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