Zambian president Edgar Lungu says the country is implementing a policy meant to protect girls from dropping out of school. The issue took prominence when Lungu addressed the 73rd United Nations General Assembly on October 25.
In outlining Zambian policies on gender equality and women empowerment, Lungu said the government was readmitting girls who left school to give birth.
Girls were also benefiting from free sanitary pads – the lack of which had been a block to their education. He also addressed measures by way of legislation being put in place to eliminate violence against females.
I further wish to mention that the continuous implementation of the re-entry policy for pregnant girls is a success, as a number of girl children have been retained in school after giving birth, a measure we believe is critical in promoting equal opportunities for girls.
“Since last year, 2017, my Government commenced the distribution of free sanitary towels to girls in rural and peri-urban areas in an effort to retain
then in school.
“This is out of the realization that the lack of proper sanitary towels, limits girls’ access to education. I further wish to mention that the continued implementation of the re-entry policy for pregnant girls is a success, as a number of girl children have been retained in school after giving birth, a measure we believe is critical in promoting equal opportunities for girls.”
His position is markedly different from one recently advanced by Human Rights Watch, HRW, who accused the government of failing to enforce a 1997 re-entry policy.
“… many young mothers are still dropping out of school, because the government isn’t putting the policy into practice,” HRW’s Senior Coordinator for Children’s Rights Susan Raqib, wrote in a piece titled: “Zambia Should Keep Young Mothers in School – Don’t let Pregnancy Be a Barrier to Education.”
She narrated meeting with local groups in the Zambian capital Lusaka, one advocate according to her bemoaned the lack of government commitment to implementing the policy to the fullest.
Some of the issues surrounding the poor implementation included:
- School officials are not trained on the policy guidelines and “some have never even seen a copy.”
- The government doesn’t monitor school compliance, and there are no consequences if they don’t respect girls’ right to be in school.
- Adolescent mothers lack the mental health and logistical support the policy requires, such as assistance with paperwork for school leave.
- Many encounter stigma and ridicule in school.
- Some faith-based schools, including those with state funding, often force girls who become mothers to transfer to other schools, deeming them a “bad influence.”
Zambia’s child marriage rates are among the highest in the world, hence a national strategy to address the issue. Kenya developed a school re-entry strategy in 1994 but records show that it faces the same hurdles as does Zambia.
The plan as is the case in both countries recognizes that encouraging adolescent mothers to return to school lessens the likelihood that they will marry before age 18.
Other portions of Lungu’s remarks on gender empowerment
On gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, I wish to reaffirm the commitment of my Government to eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls. A conducive policy and legislative environment are further strengthened through the review and enactment of new
legislation and policies that are gender responsive.
Consequently, the implementation of 50-50 Enrolment Policy is making headways as schools are now compelled by law to enroll an equal number of girls and boys.
I am pleased to inform you that our traditional rulers in all parts of the country including in the remotest areas, have come out in full force in fighting child early and forced marriages. We believe that these and many other efforts will lay a strong foundation for the attainment of sustainable development goals and in particular goal number five (5), on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.