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Case of policy that violates right to education of pregnant girls, against Sierra Leone

By May 17, 2018December 12th, 2019No Comments

Banjul, 17/05/2018 – The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), international women’s rights organisation Equality Now, and various human rights organizations in Sierra Leone have filed a legal case at the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Court) in Abuja, Nigeria, seeking to lift the ban on pregnant school girls from attending school and sitting exams in Sierra Leone.

The case also seeks to hold the government of Sierra Leone to account for its failure to respect, protect, and fulfil the girls’ right to education.

IHRDA, Equality Now and partners have been advocating for the ban to be lifted and have repeatedly engaged with state and non-state actors to end this gender discrimination. Unfortunately, the ban remains and the violation of girls rights to education continues unabated, hence the need to litigate on the issue at the West African regional court.

This discriminatory policy came into effect in 2015 just before schools re-opened subsequent to the Ebola crisis.  The girls are being wrongly punished on multiple levels by the government, which is both denying girls access to education and failing to bring to book the perpetrators of sexual violence.

IHRDA Executive Director, Gaye Sowe, believes successful litigation of this case will serve as a precedent for other countries with similar contexts.

“Today marks the beginning of the realization of rights for girls in Sierra Leone. The ECOWAS court is finally seized of the injustices suffered by girls in Sierra Leone.” Judy Gitau- Nkuranga, Equality Now.

Addressing the press in Bo district, organizations working on advancing the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone, reiterated the need for justice for girls, who are victims of sexual exploitation and rape.

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4 March 2019: Case was to be heard, but adjourned to 7 May 2019.

7 May 2019: Case was called up for hearing. The Court granted Amnesty International’s application for leave to appear as Amicus Curiae. Defendant’s Counsel argued his preliminary objection that the case be struck out as the Court lacked jurisdiction – because the Second Plaintiff was not incorporated. Also, he argued that the association “Pregnant Girls in Sierra Leone” is not registered, and is an anonymous group. As such, he argued that the Plaintiffs lacked capacity to maintain the action. The Plaintiff’s counsel responded and argued that the case was brought in the public interest by two Sierra Leonean NGOs and that pregnant girls in Sierra Leone is not the name of party. He conceded the lack of registration of the Second Plaintiff and therefore applied for the name of the Second Plaintiff to be struck off the case. The Court granted the request of Plaintiff Counsel by striking off the Second Plaintiff and dismissing the preliminary objection.

The Defendant’s Counsel applied for extension of time to file his defence on the merits of the case. The Plaintiff’s Counsel objected to this application on the grounds that the matter had dragged for about a year, and that the Defence did not deem it fit to respond at all till the Plaintiffs filed an application for default judgment. He however argued that if the Court was inclined to grant the Defendant’s application, the Court should award substantial costs in favour of the Plaintiff. The Court thus granted the application of the Defence but awarded costs in the sum of One Hundred Million Leones (Le 100, 000,000,  equivalent to about USD 11,000) in favour of the Plaintiff.

The case was adjourned to 25 June 2019 for hearing.

27 June 2019: Case was heard and adjourned to 20 November 2019 for judgment.

20 November 2019: Judgement adjourned to 12 December 2019.

12 December 2019: Court hands down its judgment in favour of the plaintiffs. Court finds Sierra Leone in violation of the right of pregnant school girls to education, and orders Sierra Leone to immediately revoke the policy banning pregnant girls from school; abolish the schools established separately for pregnant girls; develop strategies, programmes and nationwide campaigns focusing on reversing negative societal attitudes that support discrimination and bias against pregnant girls attending school, which foster the violation of their right and the right of teenage mothers to continuing education; develop strategies, programmes and nationwide campaigns to enable teenage mothers to attend school; and integrate sexual and reproductive health education into the school curricula.