Namibia - UN Not Happy With School Policy On Mothers

The Namibian (Windhoek)
February 15, 2007

By Christof Maletsky

NAMIBIA'S school pregnancy policy, which requires girls to stay home for a year after giving birth, could discourage them from continuing their education, a special committee of the United Nations says.

The UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women recently told a Namibian delegation, led by Child Welfare Minister Marlene Mungunda, to stop keeping the girls out of school.

The committee said it was concerned about the high dropout rate of girls.

"The committee is also concerned that the provision contained in the policy on pregnancy among learners requiring that girls who become pregnant should be allowed to return to normal schooling only after spending at least one year with the baby could act as a deterrent for girls to resume their studies after childbirth," the UN committee said.

It called on the Namibian Government to implement measures to keep the girls in school and monitor the impact of the policy on pupils.

Government must also give priority to the implementation of the family life-education programme.

Two years ago, Seuaa Karuaihe-Samupofu, mother of an 18-year-old Windhoek High School pupil, took the education authorities to court for refusing to re-admit her child to the school because she had given birth to a baby a month before schools reopened.

The school based its decision on a policy that requires teenage mothers to take a year off schooling to care for their babies.

However, the High Court ruled that schools cannot shut out teenage mothers who have a support system to look after their babies while they are in the classroom.

Acting Judge John Manyarara ruled that the policy was not correctly interpreted, as it recommends great caution in accepting applications.

He said it could not reasonably be the intention of the policy to prohibit the enrolment of teenage mothers if they have a support system, like Utjiua Karuaihe, whose mother Seuaa was willing and able to take care of her daughter's baby during school hours.

Manyarara compared the situation to that of an employed mother who is entitled to three months' maternity leave and is expected to return to work after such a period.

He said if the policy aimed to facilitate the return to school of pupils who have given birth, there could be no reason why a pupil who has the necessary support system for the care of a baby should be prevented from taking advantage of the system.

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