Pregnant schoolgirls to get ‘maternity leave’

LEARNERS who fall pregnant during the course of their studies are set to enjoy “maternity vacation” before returning to continue with their education after giving birth.

The privileges are provided in the Education Bill that is currently under debate in the National Assembly, where legislators are showing support for the clause.

Advocates of girl child rights have also hailed the proposal.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavima recently told legislators that allowing the pregnant girls to take a vacation is in line with the national Constitution, which calls for non-discrimination.

“There is an issue that has generated a lot of interest among the Parliamentarians. This is the issue of exclusion on account of pregnancy. The fundamental basis of the inclusion of this issue is premised on Section 75 of the Constitution, which speaks against discrimination,” said Prof Mavima.

“The current practice in our education system has it that if two Form Four learners have an affair and the girl ends up pregnant, the male student can continue with his education while the female student cannot. Yet Section 75 of our Constitution bans discrimination on the basis of gender or sex. It is on that basis that this item was included in our Bill.”

Due to current policies that bar expecting school girls from studying, a number of pregnant girls have had to drop out of school.

Parliament instituted public hearings on the Education Amendment Bill, with various stakeholders seconding the provision to allow pregnant learners to take a break and resume studies after birth.

Speaking to our Harare Bureau, MDC-T proportional representation legislator for Bulawayo, Mrs Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga said, “All we are doing is to give a chance not only to the girl, but to the unborn child.

“Those who impregnate the girls are usually the older selfish predatory males who go scot free and never help with anything.”

She added that society must move away from entirely blaming and punishing the pregnant learners.

Shamwari Yemwanasikana executive director, Mrs Ukenia Chifamba-Chidodo said education is key in fighting inequalities between girls and boys.

She welcomed the move to afford pregnant learners a chance to learn after pregnancy.

“With such high records in teen pregnancy, it means we are losing so many girls as they often drop out of school because of pregnancy,” said Mrs Chifamba-Chododo.

“We believe education is the most important right that should be a weapon to fight any form of inequality.

“Girls always bear the burden of carrying the pregnancy and dropping out of school while the boy child is safe and continues with education,” she said.

Lawyer and gender equality activist Ms Jessie Majome also hailed the move of maternity leave for school girls.

“It is a positive development that goes beyond paying lip service to the constitutional guarantees to the rights to education, of the child, and to equality and protection from discrimination.

Zimbabwe has recorded the highest teen pregnancy rate in Sub-Saharan Africa with annual figures of between 500 000 and 700 000.

According to the latest report from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, United Nations Population Fund and Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council, 19 percent of female adolescents between 15 and 19 years are pregnant.

Source – The Sunday News