KAMPALA, March 16 (IPS) – When schools reopened in Uganda in January, Atim’s baby was 3 months old. The 17-year-old wants to go back to class but she faces a dilemma – whether to reveal to her teacher that she is a breastfeeding mother.
Atim chose to open up to some of the teachers who offered to help her back. The school introduced a provision allowing her to secretly breastfeed on its premises. The first two weeks are challenging for a young mother. “It wasn’t easy but now I’m used to the students and the teachers. The teachers were really helpful,” said Atim.
She is the only breastfeeding mother at Layibi High School. Most of her former classmates were either married or dropped out of school because of pregnancy. And her case is unique. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school would not allow nursing students to attend, Senior Women Teacher Lilian Akot told IPS.
“She feels free at school. She studies from the morning, then during breaks she goes out and breastfeeds the baby. Then at lunchtime, she did the same. It was a bit challenging the first week. Whenever she hears a baby cry, she thinks it’s hers. And that tends to annoy her. “
Atim told IPS that she is determined to overcome challenges to pursue her dreams.
“I think it’s wise to go back to school because when you don’t study, life becomes difficult. I have seen how people are suffering in communities, especially the uneducated. I have a vision — I want to study and become a better person in the future. ”
According to Human Rights Watch, Uganda is among at least five countries in Africa that have either revoked restrictive or discriminatory policies or passed laws or policies allowing pregnant students and women to become pregnant. teenage mothers stay in school under certain conditions. Others include Mozambican, Zimbabwe, Sierra LeoneSão Tomé and Príncipe and more recently Tanzania.
Uganda introduced revised guidance on the management and prevention of pregnancy in schools in December 2020.
The guidance asks schools to prioritize mothers and girls who can read after pregnancy, and to provide remedial solutions for children and parents if public schools refuse to accept them. They also provide schools with guidance on addressing stigma, discrimination, and violence against students who are pregnant or who are parents.
But when schools reopened in early January, the head of the Anglican Church, Bishop Ssebagala, sparked a lengthy debate over whether pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should be allowed. back to school or not. He ordered all Anglican schools established under his diocese to ban nursing mothers and pregnant girls from attending classes, despite the guidelines.
The bishop said that although it is okay for parents to support their pregnant daughter, it is immoral to allow them to sit in the same class with other children.
“When all the girls are older, a regular health check-up will be conducted so that those who find out they are pregnant can give birth again and after giving birth, they will return. Imagine someone saying that even babies who are breastfeeding are allowed to attend class. No, this we will not accept. How can a teacher be taught when a girl is breastfeeding her baby? “
Susan Wamala Sserunkuma, President of the Uganda School Church in Mukono diocese, said schools have heeded the bishop’s orders. Sserunkuma said: “The bishop asked us not to leave the children out of school completely but advised them not to return to school because of the conditions they faced.
“We are not denying their upbringing but we are helping them live in an environment free of discrimination. School can never have room for that. For example, you can’t go back when you’re breastfeeding because you won’t have room to put your baby,” added Sserunkuma in an interview with IPS.
Joyce Nalubega, a senior education official in Buikwe District, told IPS that while public schools are willing to allow nursing mothers back into the classroom, those run by churches and mosques The established church does not.
“Organizations and governments should sit down and agree on what to do and what not to do. We respect the cultures/religions of different schools. But we cannot close the door as a whole. We just need to reorganize and give it a second chance,” she said. “Those girls went to school to learn. But the pandemic just happened around. So we shouldn’t penalize them.”
Pregnant girls continue to be banned from private primary and secondary schools. However, IPS has found that in most public or government-supported schools, girls hide out of fear and stigma.
According to Education Officer Richard Elyebu, no schools in Kaberamaido District in eastern Uganda have registered nursing minors or pregnant girls weeks after schools reopened. He told IPS: “I think the problem can be centered around feeling embarrassed when you find yourself pregnant. “At this point, we’re saying it’s a new normal but people haven’t seen it as a normal. We may have kids who are expecting but they have decided not to go back to school.”
More than 3,000 girls became pregnant in Uganda’s eastern Bukedea district late last year. Education officer Steven Okiror, told IPS that the majority of students do not attend school.
“It seems that some are married, some are hiding, their parents keep quiet. There’s actually a big problem here. They will never get it back. Parents are hesitant to give girls a second chance.”
But in neighboring Soroti district, one parent, Albert Okello, decided not to send his daughter Aculo out of school, even though parents’ withdrawal from their daughter’s pregnancy education is a common punishment in the area.
“I had to think more deeply and I said, ‘If I leave this girl, first the boy who fed her can’t get an education, he can’t help this girl at all’. That’s why we put her back in school,” Okiror said.
As the emotional debate continues, President Yoweri Museveni has insisted that he will not agree to prevent pregnant girls from returning to school. “It is not logical, nor is it certainly religious. If adults go back to school in their forties and fifties, why can’t a child go back to school? But should she go with the pregnancy? Should she breastfeed? That we will discuss,” Museveni said.
Atim’s message to teen moms and pregnant girls is, “Go back to school by any chance. They shouldn’t be afraid because I see a lot of benefit in the studies.”
Uganda’s National Planning Authority by 2021 predicts that 30% of learners (about 4.5 million children) are unlikely to return to school due to teenage pregnancy, early marriage or work. children.
© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service