Zimbabwe has made it illegal for schools to expel pupils who get pregnant, a measure aimed at tackling gender inequality in the classroom and discouraging many girls from dropping out of school.
According to Zimbabwean media, a legal amendment was announced last week and it seeks to reinforce a 1999 guideline that was patchily implemented.
The decision was reportedly made over fears of a rise in sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies as schools have been closed since the Coronavirus pandemic struck.
Many parents of pregnant girls, or the girls themselves, decide to quit schooling due to the pregnancy, and schools do not always do enough to encourage them to stay, officials say.
“I’m expecting every parent and guardian and everyone else to understand that every child must be assisted by all of us to go to school,” Cain Mathema, the education minister in charge of schools, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week.
“Every child whether boy or girl… has a right to go to school in Zimbabwe,” he said.
In 2018, 12.5% of the country’s roughly 57,500 school dropouts stopped attending classes due to pregnancy or marriage reasons – almost all of them girls, according to Education Ministry statistics.
Sibusisiwe Ndlovu, the communications specialist at Plan International Zimbabwe welcomed the new legislation as a step in the right direction.
“This amendment is crucial in fulfilling the access to education right for all children – especially girls,” Ndlovu said.