RIGHT TO EDUCATION

Proposed law compels head teachers to re-admit teenage mothers

But critics say law will send signal to girls that it is okay to get pregnant while in school

In Summary

• Head teachers will be forced to re-admit teenage mothers if new Bill is passed.

•The Care and Protection of Child Parents Bill, 2019 compels school administrators to unconditionally readmit teenage mothers at least 12 months after delivery.

Most faith-affiliated schools are said to expel pregnant girls for violating religious doctrine of no sex before marriage.
Most faith-affiliated schools are said to expel pregnant girls for violating religious doctrine of no sex before marriage.
Image: FILE

A head teacher who refuses to re-admit a learner who drops out of school because of pregnancy will be jailed for six months or fined up to Sh500, 000 if a new Bill becomes law.

Members of school management boards who turn away a teenage mother seeking re-admission shall also be liable for an offense and shall face the same punishment.

A parent unwilling to send back their daughter to school after delivery shall also be punished under the proposed law.

 
 
 

Most faith-affiliated schools are said to expel pregnant girls for violating religious doctrine of no sex before marriage.

The Care and Protection of Child Parents Bill, 2019 compels school administrators to unconditionally readmit teenage mothers at least 12 months after giving birth.

“Every child who drops out of school by reason of pregnancy shall be admitted back into an institution of basic education unconditionally and shall be allowed to join at the level which she left prior to dropping out,” the Bill reads.

The Bill, sponsored by nominated Senator Beatrice Kwamboka, provides a framework for implementation of the right to education for all children including teenage parents.

However, the radical proposal has divided education stakeholders with union leaders backing it but Kenya Secondary Schools Association officials dismissed it as a retrogressive legislation that could promote promiscuity.

"We agree that our children should be allowed back to school but calling for punishment of principals is not necessary," KESSHA chairman Indimuli Kahi told the Star.

 "We should not make it seem alright for girls to get pregnant and are readmitted. It could send a message that it is okay for the young girls to get pregnant,"

 
 
 
 
 

He urged the government to review  the consent age and incorporation of sex education into the curriculum.

The association had proposed the age of consent be raised to 21.

However, Kuppet and Knut officials lauded the proposal, noting that it is a constitutional right for every child to get education.

However, Kuppet secretary general Akello Misori warned that the proposal could pose difficulties on how to accommodate the young mothers.

"I wonder how the legislators will handle the young mothers because the schools have not been designed for nursing. This now opens the debate of whether the girl will go to school with the child as a lawmaker did the other day and sparked a debate," Akello said

Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion said learners should get the required assistance during their pregnancies.

“The union supports stringent punishment to deter any school head from denying learners an opportunity to go back to school after giving birth," Sossion said.

But he reiterated the need for teaching life skills on sexual behaviour to avert the increasing number of teen pregnancies.

The new Bill proposes that school administrators – head teachers, principal and boards of management – shall not discriminate against a child who falls pregnant while in school.

Instead, the Bill compels them to put in place enforceable rules and such other mechanisms to ensure that the other children within the school do not mistreat or in any way discriminate against the child.

“A child who falls pregnant while in school shall be given an opportunity to make up for any missed classes or examination in the case of pregnancy related absences,” it states.

“The management of an institution of basic education shall not exclude a child under this part from any programmes of the school or force the child to attend different programmes from those of her peers for the reason of the child being pregnant," it adds.

 
 

The boards shall also put in place programmes to prevent teenage pregnancies and encourage positive sexual behaviour amongst children in the institutions.

The proposed law that was introduced in the Senate for the First Reading yesterday mandates the National Education Board to issue guidelines for the conditions of re-admission of the girls.

“An institution of basic education shall ensure that rights of the newly born baby are protected and shall not readmit a child to school until it is satisfied that proper arrangements have been made for care and safety of the child,” it reads.

The Bill comes in the wake of a policy proposal by the Ministry of Education to stop the expulsion of pregnant girls from school. Instead, the policy forces a pregnant school girl to reveal the boy or man who made her pregnant for purposes of counseling or prosecution.

Cases of girls dropping out of school as a result of pregnancy have been on the rise in the country despite the existence of a school re-entry policy passed in 1994.

Besides re-admission, the policy also provides for provision of extensive guidance and counselling services to affected children.

In 2009, the Ministry of Health in collaboration with that of Education launched the National School Health Policy to deal with teenage pregnancy. The policy articulates the need for, and the process of, re-admission into school of teenage mothers.

The Bill by Kwamboka, a former Nairobi MCA, also provides for a general penalty for those convicted of an offense under it and for which no penalty is provided. This category of convicts is liable to a fine of Sh3 million or a jail term of two years or both.

The Bill obligates the national and county governments to develop programmes to support girls who have dropped out as a result of pregnancy related matters.

The national and county governments will establish care centers and put in place mechanisms to ensure a teenage mother's right to education is not violated.

“A county government may establish centres in or within the vicinity of an institution of basic education in order to ensure access to such facilities by a child parent,” the Bill says.

The centres shall provide care to children born to child parents who intend to resume their education and who have no access to care services. The county  governments shall also license individuals or groups to operate such centres.

The private school centres will be subjected to regular inspections by the county government to ensure compliance to regulations.

The centres shall be required to submit annual reports to the counties and the National Council for Children's Services established under Section 30 of the Children's Act.