Under a huge baobab tree in Sudan’s Nuba mountains, I met Sebila, a 27-year-old mother of three. In March last year, her village had been attacked by Sudanese ground troops and bombed by government war planes. The assault forced Sebila and many other villagers to flee deeper into rebel-held territory.

She was just back in the village for the day with her children, two toddlers in tow and carrying a baby, to dig up sorghum she had buried. Sebila said food here is scarcer than it has been for years, because of poor rains and conflict fighting. “It’s exhausting, trying to feed them all [my family],” Sebila said of her children.

Aid obstruction in the rebel-held territories of Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been in force for nearly six years, and has had a devastating impact on the communities here. For Sebila – and all the women living across these territories – it has meant no access to contraception. “Every year, I give birth,” she told me. “It would be better if I could space it [out].” But Sebila cannot space her babies out, or have any control of her body. Like all women living in rebel-held territory here, she has zero access to contraception.

 In the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, access to family planning and maternal healthcare is severely limited by blocks on humanitarian supplies.

© Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

It has also meant a severe lack of maternal healthcare. There is no local midwife, and Sebila lives five hours’ drive from a hospital, in a region where cars are a rare luxury. Women told me of waiting hours for transport while in obstructed labour, or being held propped up, bleeding and falling in and out of consciousness, between two men on the back of a motorcycle to reach a hospital. Multiple and closely-spaced births can carry serious health risks for both mother and infant, and can be life-threatening without proper treatment.

Yet there is no coordinated international aid effort under way in the Nuba mountains. Funds are in place, but both the government and the rebel group are preventing supplies getting in. The conflict has left already-stretched health services in the region in a pitiful state. Most facilities are little more than a table with some basic medicines, and there are only five doctors and one blood bank for perhaps close to a million people.

Despite many rounds of peace talks since fighting began in 2011, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North have failed to agree on how to allow aid – needs-based and impartially delivered – into the affected areas. Instead they are still arguing about whether aid can come through a third country, or, as the government insists, only from inside Sudan. Some aid groups have found ways to provide occasional help, unauthorised by the government but supported by the rebels, but this is no substitute for the large-scale effort needed. 

This has very serious consequences for reproductive health. None of the women I met in the Nuba mountains had any access to family planning. One clinic provides a three-month injectable contraception, but local rebel regulations require women to get their husband’s permission first. Despite evidence that gonorrhoea and syphilis are on the rise and hepatitis B common, condoms are scarce. Most of the women I met had never seen a condom, let alone any other form of contraception.

It is also feared that the number of women and girls dying in childbirth in the rebel-held areas of Southern Kordofan – already much higher than other states in Sudan – is rising yet further. And two major aid efforts, including a UN polio vaccination campaign for children, have failed.

Sudan has a long history of aid obstruction going back to the start of the conflict: denying travel permits; rejecting visas; blocking work permits; and expelling aid workers. Meanwhile, citing mistrust of the government, the rebels have still not agreed to an offer by the US to provide aid via Khartoum, and have instead called for yet more negotiations. 

Although aid saves lives, and warring parties in conflict have an obligation to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians, preventing it from reaching people is rarely punished. The UN security council briefly threatened punitive action against Sudan in 2012, but never acted. The health crisis unfolding in the Nuba mountains should prompt a change of tack. The UN security council, the African Union and the EU should investigate and consider travel bans and asset freezes on rebel and government leaders found to have deliberately blocked such deliveries. 

International aid is often a lifeline to civilians trapped in conflict. And it would help women like Sebila to access contraception, avoid risky childbirth, and feed their children.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Sarah Jamal Ahmed, a 24-year-old sociologist who was one of the activists during the 2011 uprising in Sanaa, stands by posters of dead protesters posted in the streets.

© 2012 Panos/Abbie Trayler-Smith

The revolution made us proud to be there on the front line and men were forced to accept us. But now there are some who think it is time for women to go home.

—Salwa Bughaighis, lawyer and human rights activist, Benghazi, Libya, July 2012[i]

In 2011, women were at the forefront as the Arab Spring erupted in Libya, organizing and demanding their rights to have a voice in their country’s future. The ensuing civil war resulted in the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi being toppled.  In the transitional period following that armed conflict women organized as voters and candidates in preparation for elections, documented human rights abuses, and worked to ensure any new constitution would enshrine women’s rights.

The revolution made us proud to be there on the front line and men were forced to accept us. But now there are some who think it is time for women to go home.

Salwa Bughaighis

Lawyer and human rights activist, Benghazi, Libya, July 2012

Iman and Salwa Bughaighis—sisters and human rights activists—were among the key organizers of the first demonstrations against Gaddafi in Benghazi in February 2011. “The revolution was an earthquake to the cultural status of women in Libya,” Iman told Human Rights Watch.

But the space for women’s political participation soon began to shrink. As the wrangling intensified over power and the future of Libya, women found themselves facing significant obstacles to their full participation in the country’s transitional processes, and even targeted for violence. On June 25, 2014, following threats, unidentified gunmen murdered Salwa Bughaighis in her home in Benghazi. One month later, on July 17, unidentified assailants shot dead Fariha al-Barkawi, a former lawmaker, in the eastern city of Derna.[ii] Both crimes are among hundreds of apparently politically motivated killings in post-Gaddafi Libya that remain uninvestigated and unprosecuted.

On the eve of Libya’s first democratic national election, Haja Nowara held a vigil in the square outside the courthouse in Benghazi, where she had spent many evenings supporting the revolution since early 2011. “I have waited my whole life for tomorrow, which will be a new day for Libya,” said Nowara, who would be voting for the first time in her life. “We sacrificed a lot to get here.”

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

In its treatment of women and girls in wartime and in the post-war transition, Libya is sadly unexceptional.  Throughout history, women and girls have often been targeted in wartime for violence, especially sexual violence.  And they have also been denied the ability to participate in conflict prevention and post-conflict resolution efforts. Governments and non-state armed groups did not pay attention to the use of rape as a weapon of war, nor to the exclusion of women from crucial decision-making on conflict resolution and prevention, until women themselves mobilized for recognition and action.

This document sets out the commitments that the international community has since made to women and girls affected by armed conflict and outlines the major disappointments and gaps in implementation in three distinct but interconnected areas: participation; protection and assistance; and accountability. It also makes recommendations to governments, to all parties to armed conflicts, and to the UN on how to turn the promises made to women and girls in these three areas into reality.

Security Council Resolution 1325

After sustained advocacy efforts from women’s civil society organizations, the United Nations Security Council, in 2000, adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.[iii] It was the Security Council’s first dedicated resolution that recognized the specific risks to and experiences of women in armed conflict and women’s central role in maintaining international peace and security. Resolution 1325 elucidated states’ obligations to women and girls in situations of armed conflict, including ensuring that women are involved in all aspects of conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict rebuilding. As broadly understood, the women, peace and security agenda acknowledges the linkages between participation, protection and assistance, and accountability, and the centrality of these issues to broader human rights concerns.

Angelina, 20, from Koch county, was spared in May when members of government aligned militia abducted three women and a teenage girl who she was hiding with. “When I fled [my village], I felt very tired and I sometimes would fall and have to use my arms to pull myself forward on the ground,” said the 20-year-old who has a physical disability. “I arrived [at the UNMI SS camp] three weeks after the attack. My whole body was swollen.” 

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

This groundbreaking resolution and the subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security elaborate the responsibilities of all parties to ensure the meaningful “participation of women in all levels of decision-making” in institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of armed conflict, calling on all actors in peace talks to increase women’s participation in negotiations, and to ensure women’s rights are addressed in peace agreements.[iv] The resolutions remind all parties to armed conflicts of their obligations under international law, particularly civilian protection in armed conflicts, and call for states to end impunity for crimes of gender-based violence in armed conflicts. They urge the UN and governments to take steps to increase the number of women throughout the justice sector, and in armed forces. In these resolutions, the Security Council also states its intention to ensure it incorporates women, peace and security in its own work, including through consulting with civil society.

The resolution has given women around the world increased attention and legitimacy in their work in areas of armed conflict. Since the resolution’s adoption in 2000, many governments have begun to recognize that women’s roles in peace processes are not negotiable add-ons, but fundamental to sustainable and implementable peace accords. Security Council resolutions and commitments by UN member states have recognized conflict-related sexual violence as a tactic often ruthlessly deployed in war, and have expanded international prevention and response efforts. Governments and international bodies have introduced new policy frameworks, including additional Security Council resolutions, on women, peace and security at the national, regional, and multilateral levels. The UN is starting to collect data on a range of protection and participation aspects—from sexual violence in armed conflicts to women in peace talks—allowing policymakers and program implementers to begin to track where there has been success and where problems persist.

Much Work Remains

The remaining challenges are many. There is a lack of concerted, high-level leadership willing to spend political capital at key policy moments, such as in Security Council negotiations and in peace talks. There is insufficient and irregular funding, particularly for grassroots organizations working on women’s local-level peacebuilding and service provision.[v] Despite the improvement in data collection, there remains a lack of timely and disaggregated information for policymakers on women and girls in crisis situations, accompanied by a lack of analysis and recommendations for policymakers on appropriate action to take.[vi] Despite the heightened risk of violence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and women with disabilities in situations of armed conflict, specific measures for them are rarely incorporated into policy and programming, often leaving these populations out of decision-making processes and unable to access services.

Sexual violence during Nepal’s 10 year conflict between Maoists and government forces has remained largely undisclosed. 

©2014 Arantxa Cedillo for Human Rights Watch

The UN Security Council, despite six subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security, often fails to bring these issues into its work on crisis situations. Despite the Security Council members’ meeting with women civil society representatives on its 2013 visit to the Great Lakes region, the subsequent report on the mission contained no substantive analysis or recommendations on women’s rights and concerns.[vii] Briefings from senior UN officials often lack specific information on women’s rights violations, on the inclusion of women in peacemaking efforts, and on the levels of women’s participation in security reform. Use of sanctions and other tools at the Security Council’s disposal are similarly haphazardly applied with respect to women, peace and security.[viii]  The Security Council rarely takes advantage of information on perpetrators to hold them to account and prevent future violations. For example, despite evidence of widespread crimes of sexual violence committed by Sudanese forces in Tabit in Darfur in 2014, the Security Council has not adopted a strong response.[ix] 

With women’s rights high on their rhetorical agenda, practical support among donor countries lags. It is rare, for example, that donors make women’s rights and women’s participation in decision-making a priority in political engagement with conflict-affected countries. Too often, including in countries such as Afghanistan and Somalia, officials assert it is not the right time to push for women’s rights, that security is somehow a prerequisite for women’s rights rather than inextricably linked with them, or that they do not have the leverage to act.[x]

For women and girls living in situations of armed conflict, participation, protection and assistance, and accountability for gender-based crimes remain a distant promise. As detailed in the following sections, it will take strong action backed by persistent political will for the potential of the women, peace and security agenda to be realized.

Nigerian girls in a refugee camp near Lake Chad in Chad. 

© 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Participation

When Afghan women were asked their definition of security, we used the word “amnyat wa masuniat,” by which we mean a comprehensive feeling of safety when engaged in daily public and social life. The success of peace agreements must be gauged by real, measurable security improvements for women and for all members of the community, not just that a peace agreement has been signed. Excellencies, peace is a process, not an event. We look to you as Member States, including members of the Security Council, to ensure that women are consistently appointed as mediators and negotiators, and that our rights are fundamental to peace processes and outcomes.

—Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat, Afghan civil society representative and women’s rights advocate, delivered in the UN Security Council on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, New York, October 28, 2011[xi]

Despite years of rhetoric on the importance of women’s participation in Afghanistan peace processes, no women have been included in over 20 known rounds of informal talks between the international community and the Taliban. In talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, women were present on two occasions.[xii] In most situations of armed conflict and post-conflict, women have few channels and face formidable obstacles to participating in conflict prevention, conflict-resolution, and political processes such as elections and constitutional reform.

The success of peace agreements must be gauged by real, measurable security improvements for women and for all members of the community, not just that a peace agreement has been signed. Excellencies, peace is a process, not an event. We look to you as Member States, including members of the Security Council, to ensure that women are consistently appointed as mediators and negotiators, and that our rights are fundamental to peace processes and outcomes.

Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat

Afghan civil society representative and women’s rights advocate, delivered in the UN Security Council on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, New York, October 28, 2011

Women have little representation in formal peace talks. Available UN and academic data show that women are rarely present in these negotiations, and specific rights and concerns of women and girls are rarely reflected in peace agreements. One study of peace processes from 1992-2011 shows that only 4 percent of signatories to peace agreements have been women, and only 18 out of 300 peace agreements signed between 1998 and 2008 addressed any aspect of women’s rights and concerns.[xiii] Women struggle to have their voices heard, but examples of greater women’s involvement are gradually increasing. In Colombia, for example, women are present as permanent members of the negotiation delegation, and a sub-committee on gender in the negotiations was established in 2014, and women’s rights are discussed in the substantive talks. This happened after concerted pressure from civil society organizations, supported by UN Women.[xiv] Despite these gains, however, women’s civil society organizations have not been afforded a formal role in the Colombia negotiations.

Those facilitating formal peace talks often fail to recognize women’s work in community-level peace efforts.  When the opportunity to engage in formal peace talks arose in the 2014 Geneva II talks, Syrian women mobilized. With support from international nongovernmental organizations, UN member states, and the UN, women met behind closed doors with the Security Council, held consultative meetings to draft consolidated demands, and worked with women peacemakers from Ireland, Guatemala, and Bosnia-Herzegovina on strategies for engaging in the peace process.[xv] But when they met with the UN special envoy to Syria, Lakdhar Brahimi, he did not stay to hear their concerns and recommendations. “Mr. Brahimi, we are already building peace in Syria,” the women said, although Brahimi, effectively the chief mediator of Syria’s peace process, had already left the meeting. “We can help you if you let us.”[xvi]  Brahimi’s successor, Staffan de Mistura, has consulted with Syrian women’s groups, despite the stalling of the formal peace process.

Two activists working with the Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation (WADI), a German-Iraqi human rights group supporting Yezidi women and girls who escaped ISIS. WADI has three mobile units that visit women and girls in camps and settlements. It is seeking funds to build a center for training courses and social activities.

©2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Women should have seats at all decision-making tables, and women’s rights and concerns should be included in the outcomes of conflict negotiations. For example, women's rights should be reflected in humanitarian access agreements, human rights agreements, ceasefires, ceasefire monitoring, and in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) efforts agreed to by parties to a conflict. They should also be integrated throughout security sector reforms, including the vetting of armed and security forces, justice, reparations, and in relief and recovery programs.[xvii] Women’s participation is also the key to ensuring their protection and minimizing risks in displacement settings. This includes in the design of refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) camps so that women and girls are not placed at further risk in those settings.[xviii] Targeted efforts need to be made to ensure that the diversity of women’s perspectives is reflected in all aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. For example, women with disabilities face unique challenges and can share their problem-solving approaches in conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts.

Women human rights defenders often face risks, particularly in times of armed conflict. Even when women can legally conduct their work, they may face physical assault, sexual violence, and threats far greater than their male counterparts. Human Rights Watch has documented physical attacks, death threats, threatening phone calls, sexual harassment and assault, rape, and threats against children of activists in armed conflicts, all of which can create a chilling environment in an effort to silence these women.[xix] In the 2015 Sudan elections, for example, National Intelligence and Security Service officers arrested Dr. Sandra Kadouda, a prominent political and human rights activist, on April 12 as she drove to an anti-elections event at the National Umma Party headquarters in Omdurman. The authorities held her for three days at an unknown location, and then freed her on April 15, visibly bruised and with injuries to her shoulder, credible sources reported.[xx]

Women should also have the opportunity to participate in security forces without facing discrimination or harassment.  Women often are subject to hostile work environments that dissuade them from staying in or even joining police and military services. In Afghanistan, for example, despite efforts to increase their numbers, women have remained about 1 percent of the Afghan police over the last several years.[xxi] In addition to a lack of the most basic toilet and changing room facilities, women in the Afghan police face abuse and sometimes assault, including sexual assault, by male colleagues. Despite multiple reports of such incidents, these crimes often go unpunished, and government officials, including the minister of interior, have denied that abuses against women officers are a problem.[xxii]

Recommendations to Governments, Parties to Armed Conflict, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Implement national-level policies, including National Action Plans, on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to ensure the full and meaningful participation of women in all peace and security discussions, including in all peace processes and transitional justice mechanisms. All parties involved in peace negotiations, including mediators and facilitators, should act to ensure women’s rights and concerns are a priority in negotiations and are integrated throughout any agreement. All discussions should benefit from the full engagement of civil society organizations, including women’s rights groups, women from marginalized populations, such as ethnic and religious minorities, and women with disabilities.
     
  2. Safeguard women’s security and support women’s participation in post-conflict elections, referendums and constitutional drafting, and reform processes. This includes promotion and protection of women candidates, voters, election workers, and women’s human rights defenders.
     
  3. Protect women’s human rights defenders. Governments should monitor threats and attacks against women's human rights defenders and provide protection as requested in a manner that allows them to continue their work.
     
  4. Strengthen recruitment and retention strategies for women in the security sector, including by addressing cultural and practical barriers that women face, by providing specific training and facilities, and ensuring women have equal opportunities for responsibility and advancement.
  5. Ensure women’s leadership and protection in displacement settings. Encourage and facilitate women’s representation in the leadership of camps and centers for the internally displaced and refugees. UN agencies should consult with women and girls, including those with disabilities, to ensure camp designs are accessible, safe, disability-inclusive, and provide equal access to food distributions, sanitation facilities, health—as well as reproductive health—services, education, and vocational training for women and girls.

A female election worker helps an elderly voter at a polling station in Benghazi. The electoral law rightly allowed people with “special needs” to bring assistants. However, barriers remain to ensure the right to political participation for women and men with disabilities.

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Protection and Assistance

The government should give us proper shelter with a fence and an entrance. Police should secure the camp and manage who comes and goes. The worst thing is that the rapes push us into poverty because afterward we cannot do the same work or carry heavy loads. We need money for our kids to live. The government should do something or kids will die of hunger.

—Farxiyo, who was raped in an IDP camp, Mogadishu, Somalia, August 2013[xxiii]

No one has offered me one-on-one counselling of any kind. I’d be interested in receiving professional counseling to help me process my experiences if it was available.… I have trouble sleeping at night, and only sleep a few hours at a time. When I sleep, I often see my parents and siblings in front of my eyes, especially the image of my brothers being forced to kneel on the road, and my mother’s face.

—Narin (pseudonym), 20-year-old woman from Sinjar who escaped captivity and sexual abuse by ISIS fighters, Dohuk, Iraq, January 2015[xxiv]

In armed conflicts around the globe, combatants frequently target women and girls for abuse. National armies and non-state armed groups use sexual violence as a tactic in war in violation of international law.  Conflict-related sexual violence can include rape, abduction, forced prostitution, forced marriage, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy. 

Women and girls face multiple abuses in war, in addition to conflict-related sexual violence, including: forced displacement; the targeting and punishment of women because of their own activism or activism by male relatives; the drive towards early, forced, and child marriages because of instability and a lack of security for girls and younger women; an increase in domestic violence and sexual violence committed by civilians; lack of access to food, shelter, and health care; the interruption of education; and sexual exploitation and trafficking, to name but a few.

The government should give us proper shelter with a fence and an entrance. Police should secure the camp and manage who comes and goes. The worst thing is that the rapes push us into poverty because afterward we cannot do the same work or carry heavy loads. We need money for our kids to live. The government should do something or kids will die of hunger.

Farxiyo, who was raped in an IDP camp, Mogadishu, Somalia, August 2013

For example, Human Rights Watch has documented the abuse faced by Syrian women activists and other civilians.[xxv] Some of these women have long histories of activism while others began participating politically only after the beginning of uprisings against the Syrian government. Some were targeted or arbitrarily detained for their work, such as Jelnar, who used her pharmaceutical credentials to smuggle medications between neighborhoods. Several of them experienced torture, sexual assault, physical abuse, or harassment as a direct result of their activism, like Layal, who was detained by government forces for assisting the internally displaced. Others became household heads following their husbands’ detention or death, such as Zeinab, who lost her husband and son in separate incidents at the hands of government forces.

In Sudan’s ongoing armed conflicts, Sudanese government forces and allied militias have committed rape and other sexual violence against women and girls on numerous instances. For example, Sudanese military forces engaged in the mass rape of more than 200 women and girls in the town of Tabit, Darfur, in late 2014, restricted access to the town for UN and international investigators, peacekeepers, and humanitarian agencies, and threatened residents with reprisals if they spoke about their ordeals. Government authorities fostered a climate of fear in Tabit that deterred many women and girls from seeking medical care at clinics and hospitals.[xxvi]  

Adequate protection measures are vital to ensuring the safety of women and girls, but when attacks do happen, service provision is vital for survivors. In Nigeria, numerous victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the lack of security force presence in areas particularly vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram, notably in towns and villages in Borno State. Victims, witnesses, community leaders, and analysts told Human Rights Watch that government security services could have done more to prevent attacks by ensuring the adequate presence and arming of military personnel, and by responding more quickly and effectively to reports of attacks once in progress. Survivors of Boko Haram attacks received virtually no necessary psychosocial and medical services, and none of the rape survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch had any information about how and where to access post-rape care.[xxvii]

Manal Ameer, 33, pictured here with her two daughters, was among the first to vote in Benghazi. She said she had learned about the election process through television advertising and had researched candidates via the Internet.

© 2012 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

In northern Iraq, the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has carried out systematic rape and other sexual violence against Yezidi women and girls since August 2014. Human Rights Watch documented a system of mass abduction, organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS forces.[xxviii] Many of the women and girls remain missing, but survivors who escaped to the Kurdish Region of Iraq need psychosocial support and basic humanitarian assistance. These survivors require specialized and expert psychosocial services in their present locations to aid their recovery and their reintegration into their communities. Few have received these.

Women and girls in displaced populations are at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence, and of becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking.[xxix] Humanitarian crises often mean that women and girls are placed at greater risk of violence, with specific measures such as camp design and humanitarian relief necessary. Human Rights Watch research has found that women and girls with disabilities were frequently abandoned or left behind in crises, condemning them to face isolation, neglect, and abuse in post-conflict settings.[xxx] Despite commitments from governments and the UN, prevention efforts, access to services, and holding perpetrators accountable all remain extremely weak, and in some cases, non-existent.

Women displaced by armed conflict often find it difficult to access necessary long-term protection and humanitarian assistance. In Colombia, in an example that highlights the complexity of long-term access to assistance, Lucia fled her community in Antioquia with her husband and six children when an armed group threatened her son for refusing to join their ranks in 2010. Lucia’s husband had physically abused her and this became worse after the family fled to Medellín. Despite trying to access humanitarian assistance for herself and her children directly, the government agency never responded to her case. [xxxi]

No one has offered me one-on-one counselling of any kind. I’d be interested in receiving professional counseling to help me process my experiences if it was available.… I have trouble sleeping at night, and only sleep a few hours at a time. When I sleep, I often see my parents and siblings in front of my eyes, especially the image of my brothers being forced to kneel on the road, and my mother’s face.

Narin (pseudonym)

20-year-old woman from Sinjar who escaped captivity and sexual abuse by ISIS fighters, Dohuk, Iraq, January 2015

Women with disabilities in displacement settings also face discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, and poverty, and thus need particular measures to address protection concerns.[xxxii] Lack of mobility and communication barriers, for example, mean women with disabilities are at particular risk of sexual violence. This discrimination, as well as more general social stigma, prevents them from realizing their rights to accessible information, and accessing health care and other government services. In a displacement camp in Northern Uganda, Charity, a woman with a physical disability, recounted her experience: “People told me I should just die so others can eat the food: ‘You are useless. You are a waste of food.’”[xxxiii]

In line with their obligations under international humanitarian law—the laws of war—parties to armed conflicts should take all feasible measures to protect civilians under their control from attack, including protecting women and girls from sexual and other gender-based violence.[xxxiv]  International human rights law also applies during armed conflict, and provides protections to women and girls against sexual violence and other abuses, including domestic violence.[xxxv] States have obligations to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses and prosecute those responsible.

International humanitarian and human rights law prohibit acts of sexual violence. International humanitarian law sets out protections for civilians and other non-combatants during both international and non-international armed conflicts.[xxxvi] It implicitly and explicitly prohibits both state armed forces and non-state armed groups from committing rape and other forms of sexual violence.[xxxvii]

International human rights law also contains protections from rape and other forms of sexual abuse through its prohibitions on torture and other ill-treatment, slavery, forced prostitution, and discrimination based on sex.[xxxviii]  The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains additional protections for children.[xxxix]

Recommendations to Governments, Parties to Armed Conflicts, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law prohibitions of rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, cruel treatment, and other abuses. All parties to armed conflicts should issue clear, public orders to all forces under their control to end and appropriately punish all abuses, including crimes of sexual and gender-based violence.
     
  2. Governments providing military and other security assistance should ensure that such support does not encourage or facilitate abuses against women, and that it provides a basis for promoting greater respect for women’s rights.  Compliance with international human rights standards should be a factor in evaluating the continuation of such support. Governments should vet recipients of this assistance to exclude units or individuals when there is credible information they have been involved in serious violations of human rights.
     
  3. Ensure that survivors of sexual violence and other gender-based violence have access to essential medical and psychological care, as well as available economic and social support. Humanitarian aid should include access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services that respect the confidentiality and rights of survivors, including for pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, and injuries resulting from sexual violence, with specific measures taken to ensure these services are accessible for women with disabilities.
     
  4. Make women’s and girls’ protection and access to assistance a priority in displacement settings, including through consultation, promoting women’s leadership, camp and shelter design, registration and distribution systems, security measures, and recruitment and training of female security staff.
     
  5. Ensure all parties to armed conflicts grant UN agencies and independent humanitarian organizations unfettered access to civilians and communities in need of assistance. The media and human rights groups should also be provided access to conflict areas.
     
  6. Governments and the UN should highlight women’s participation, protection, and assistance concerns at the highest levels, including by conducting high-level visits to areas where serious abuses have been reported and raising the issues with senior government officials, donor governments, and regional and international bodies. Security Council members should press all parties to armed conflicts to meet all international law obligations.
     
  7. The UN Security Council and concerned governments should impose arms embargoes on state armed forces and non-state armed groups implicated in widespread or systematic serious human rights abuses, including those targeting women and girls. The Security Council should require states to suspend all military sales and assistance, including technical training and services, to these abusive actors until meaningful steps are taken to end such violations and appropriately punish those responsible. Travel bans and asset freezes should also be imposed on individuals responsible for serious abuses, with appropriate due process protections.

“For three months, I had a feeling that one of us was going to die,” said Maha, 28 (left), of the young activists group in which she participated. In November, 2012, she and fellow members of the group had just finished a peaceful protest outside a mosque in Aleppo, when government shelling struck the site, killing her husband of only a few weeks. Her sister Nuha, 23 (right), also an activist, was kidnapped by pro-government militia while on her way to work in Damascus in August 2012 and held for 23 days. 

©2014 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Accountability

We want these people punished. We just don’t have the reach or the power. If I did, we would have dealt with it a long time ago. We need support.

—Husband of Nandita (pseudonym), who was raped in 2001 because her husband was a Maoist combatant, Nepal, April 2014[xl]

Perpetrators of abuses in armed conflicts rarely face justice and, by all accounts, are even less likely to when responsible for sexual violence against women and girls. In November 2012, in Minova, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congolese army soldiers raped at least 76 women and girls when nearby Goma fell to the M23 rebel group.[xli] The crimes created an outcry at the national and international level. Strong international pressure was brought on the Congolese authorities to pursue justice. The UN threatened to suspend support by the peacekeeping mission MONUSCO to the Congolese army unless those responsible were brought to justice. The UN Security Council and donor governments raised the need for accountability for the crimes in Minova in multiple statements and in meetings with Congolese authorities. High-profile visits to the area by the Congolese minister of justice, the wife of President Joseph Kabila, UK Foreign Minister William Hague, and UN refugee agency special envoy Angelina Jolie, raised attention to the issue.

Three years after the attacks, accountability, services, and security are still insufficient. Despite considerable efforts by Congolese authorities and international partners to ensure judicial proceedings in the case, including by providing for the participation of numerous victims and effective protection of victims and witnesses, the verdict did little to achieve justice. Out of 39 soldiers and officers brought to trial, only 2 rank-and-file soldiers were convicted of rape.  All mid-ranking officers present in Minova at the time of the crimes and brought to trial were completely acquitted. No high-level officers were even charged.[xlii] 

The Minova case illustrates the difficulties of ensuring accountability for conflict-related sexual violence. Congolese authorities and international partners have made considerable efforts to increase accountability for sexual violence in Congo over the past several years, resulting in a few trials involving charges of rape as a war crime or a crime against humanity, and dozens of proceedings and convictions for rape as an ordinary crime. Investigating and proving sexual violence in judicial proceedings remains a complex matter and further efforts are needed.

We want these people punished. We just don’t have the reach or the power. If I did, we would have dealt with it a long time ago. We need support.

Husband of Nandita (pseudonym), who was raped in 2001 because her husband was a Maoist combatant, Nepal, April 2014

Women and girls who suffer rights abuses in armed conflicts, including sexual violence, face tremendous barriers in obtaining redress. Regular police and court functions may be in disarray. They may not wish to seek avenues for justice out of fear of retaliation or marginalization in their communities and homes. They may lack the financial or logistical means to access courts and legal assistance. National judicial systems often lack expertise in handling vulnerable victims of sexual violence during investigations and prosecutions. Physical protection and psychological assistance may be lacking. There may be strong resistance to or lack of resources for reforming the security apparatus in the immediate and long-term aftermath of an armed conflict. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs often neglect to address female combatants and women euphemistically called “bush wives,” or women who are associated with armed groups, often forcibly. Women with disabilities have particular difficulty accessing redress or justice mechanisms, including physical barriers in entering police stations and courtrooms, communication barriers, or questioning of the credibility of their testimony if they have a psychosocial or intellectual disability.

Even when international peacekeeping forces are in place to bring stability to conflict-riven regions, they are sometimes perpetrators themselves. Although the UN has a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation and abuse, accountability for these crimes remains a concern.[xliii] For example, in the past decade, there have been allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic, Haiti, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The persistent lack of transparency on these cases makes it very difficult to help victims seek justice. With the UN historically providing few specifics on allegations of abuse, and few countries that contribute troops and police to UN operations providing information on investigations and prosecutions, the scope of the problem is unclear. In one of the few cases in which public information is available on accountability for UN peacekeepers, a Pakistani peacekeeper charged with sexually assaulting a Haitian boy was convicted, and faced a one-year sentence upon conviction.[xliv]

A woman prisoner looks out a window in Parwan prison north of Kabul, Afghanistan, in February 2011.The woman was convicted of moral crimes after a man from her neighborhood raped her. She later gave birth in prison.

© 2011 Farzana Wahidy

When crimes of sexual violence are committed as part of armed conflict, they can be prosecuted as war crimes. States have an obligation to investigate alleged war crimes committed by members of the armed forces and other nationals, and prosecute those responsible.[xlv] Non-state armed groups also have an obligation to prevent war crimes and should investigate and appropriately punish perpetrators.[xlvi] Those acts of sexual violence committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) specifies that acts of rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.[xlvii]

Aside from their direct criminal responsibility for crimes committed, for instance, by issuing orders that subordinates carry out, commanders and other superiors may be criminally liable for failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by their subordinates.[xlviii]

International human rights law also enshrines the right to an effective remedy, which obligates the state to prevent, investigate, and punish serious human rights violations.[xlix] State should also provide reparations to victims of human rights violations, such as compensation for damages.[l] The UN has reaffirmed these principles specifically in relation to eliminating violence against women.[li]

Recommendations to Governments, UN agencies, and the UN Secretariat

  1. Ensure comprehensive, credible, and impartial investigations into sexual and gender-based violence and appropriately and fairly prosecute those responsible. This should include independent investigations into all allegations against members of armed forces, including peacekeepers, that respect the confidentiality and rights of survivors.
     
  2. Ensure accessible judicial processes that adhere to international fair trial standards for grave international crimes, including sexual and gender-based violence. This should include providing specialized training to investigators, prosecutors, and judges on the proper handling of such cases.  Adequate protection measures and psychological support should be available, before, during, and after trials, including, but not limited to, relocation measures for victims and their households. Judicial mechanisms should also be accessible for women with disabilities, including by facilitating access to police stations and courts, ensuring access to documentation, and relevant training for law enforcement and the judiciary.
     
  3. Strengthen independent institutions capable of responding to sexual and gender-based violence and supporting survivors. Governments should create accessible and safe channels to report rape, assault, and other abuses and issue clear, public orders to all security forces to end any harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests of those who speak out or seek to enforce their rights. Reporting mechanisms should be fully inclusive and provide specific accommodations for women and girls with disabilities. Governments should ensure proper and timely investigations and prosecutions that respect the rights of the survivor.
     
  4. Enact security sector reform to provide vetting of police and other security personnel, ensure recruitment, hiring, and training of female security personnel, and provide training for prosecutors, as well as judges and defense lawyers, on respecting women’s rights in the justice system, including handling crimes of sexual violence. Identify and exclude individuals from the security forces who are under investigation, have charges pending against them, or have been subjected to disciplinary measures or criminal convictions for sexual violence or other serious abuses.
     
  5. Press for accountability and justice, including through the UN Security Council, General Assembly, and Human Rights Council. When national level efforts fail or are inadequate, pursue alternative paths to justice, such as independent commissions of inquiry, the use of universal jurisdiction, and when applicable, referrals to the ICC. In accordance with the ICC prosecutor’s newly adopted Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, the ICC should continue to ensure that these crimes are the focus of special attention in ICC proceedings.[lii]
     
  6. Ensure reparations programs meet international standards and include specific consideration for women and girls. Consult with local women’s rights groups and women from communities affected by armed conflict in determining and distributing reparation packages.
     
  7. Protect women’s rights in national laws and ensure they meet international standards. This includes ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) with no reservations, or removing any existing reservations to CEDAW. National laws should guarantee equality before the law, protection from violence, and freedom from discrimination, including on the basis of sex, gender, pregnancy, disability, and marital status. Consistent with international standards, sexual violence and other gender-based violence crimes should be included in the criminal code. Ensure accountability when these laws are violated.
     
  8. Institute measures to ensure accountability, including by raising public concern and urging relevant actors, including troop-contributing countries, to carry out immediate investigations when there are substantial grounds to believe that peacekeepers have committed serious human rights abuses or war crimes, including sexual exploitation and abuse.
 

[i] Human Rights Watch, A Revolution for All: Women’s Rights in the New Libya, May 2013,  https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/05/27/revolution-all/womens-rights-new-libya, p. 11.

[ii] “Libya: Extremists Terrorizing Derna Residents,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 27, 2014,  https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/27/libya-extremists-terrorizing-derna-residents.

[iii] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325 (2000), S/RES/1325 (2000) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1325(2000) (accessed July 21, 2015).

[iv] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1820 (2008), S/RES/1820 (2008) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1820(2008) (accessed  July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1888 (2009), S/RES/1888 (2009) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1888(2009) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1889 (2009), S/RES/1889 (2009) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1889(2009) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1960 (2010), S/RES/1960 (2010) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1960(2010) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2106 (2013), S/RES/2106 (2013) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2106(2013) (accessed July 21, 2015); United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2122 (2013), S/RES/2122 (2013) http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/2122(2013) (accessed July 21, 2015).

[v] According to the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on women, peace and security, data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that “only 0.35 per cent of aid allocated to conflict, peace and security activities [was] marked as having a gender focus.” United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on women and peace and security,  S/2014/693, September 2014, http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_2014_693.pdf (accessed July 17, 2015).

[vi] Based on data from: NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, “Mapping Women, Peace and Security in the UN Security Council: 2012-2013,” December 2013, http://womenpeacesecurity.org/media/pdf-2012-13_MAP_Report.pdf  (accessed July 8, 2015); and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, PeaceWomen, “Report Watch,” undated, http://www.peacewomen.org/security-council/report-watch (accessed July 8, 2015).

[vii] United Nations Security Council, Sixty-eighth year, 7045th meeting, October 21, 2013, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/PV.7045 (accessed July 8, 2015).

 [viii] Based on data from: NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, “Mapping Women, Peace and Security in the UN Security Council: 2012-2013”; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, PeaceWomen, “Report Watch”; and Security Council Report, “Cross Cutting Report: Women, Peace and Security,” April 2014,   http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/cross_cutting_report_2_women_peace_security_2014.pdf  (accessed July 8, 2015).

[ix] Human Rights Watch, Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit, February 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur/sudanese-army-attacks-against-civilians-tabit.

[x] Heather Barr, “A seat at the table in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, May 1, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-seat-at-the-table-in-afghanistan/2015/05/01/fd930e26-ef41-11e4-8abc-d6aa3bad79dd_story.html (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xi] Statement by Orzala Ashraf Nemat at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, October 28, 2011, http://womenpeacesecurity.org/media/pdf-Statement_OpenDebate_Oct2011.pdf (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xii] Oxfam “Behind Closed Doors: The risk of denying women a voice in determining Afghanistan’s future,” November 24, 2014, https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/bp200-behind-doors-afghan-women-rights-241114-en.pdf (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xiii] See UN Women, “Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations: Connections between Presence and Influence,”  October 2012, http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2012/10/wpssourcebook-03a-womenpeacenegotiations-en.pdf (accessed July 20, 2015); and United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Women and Peace and Security, S/2011/598, September 29, 2011, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2011/598 (accessed July 27, 2015); S/2012/732, October 2, 2012, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2012/732 (accessed July 27, 2015); S/2013/525, September 4, 2013, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2013/525 (accessed July 27, 2015); and S/2014/693, September 23, 2014, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/693 (accessed July 27, 2015). See also, Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke, Women and Peace Agreements 1325 Dataset, Distributed by University of Ulster, Transitional Justice Institute, 2010 http://www.transitionaljustice.ulster.ac.uk/tji_database.html (accessed July 20, 2015).

[xiv] “Women take the reins to build peace in Colombia”, UN Women press release, May 28, 2015, http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2015/5/women-build-peace-in-colombia (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xv] Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, “Innovative WILPF Conference Gathers Syrian And Bosnian Women’s Rights Activists,” February 21, 2014,  http://www.wilpfinternational.org/innovative-wilpf-conference-gathers-syrian-and-bosnian-womens-rights-activists-2/ (accessed July 16, 205); Cynthia Enloe, “Day I of the Syrian Women’s Peace Talks in Geneva: Prelude to the Official Syrian Peace Talks,” Women’s Action for New Directions,  January 20, 2014, http://www.wandactioncenter.org/2014/01/30/guest-author-cynthia-enloes-report-from-the-syrian-peace-talks/ (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xvi] “He Left Before Syria’s Women Could Speak,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, December 19, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/12/19/dispatches-he-left-syria-s-women-could-speak (accessed July 16, 2015).

[xvii] UNSCR 1888, Operative Paragraph 17; UNSCR 1820, Operative Paragraph 10; United Nations Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Resource Centre (UNDDR), Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standard, “5:10, Women, Gender and DDR,” August 2006, http://unddr.org/uploads/documents/IDDRS%205.10%20Women,%20Gender%20and%20DDR.pdf (accessed 21 July 2015).

[xviii] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1325, Operative Paragraph 12.

[xix] “UN Human Rights Council: Call to Recognize the Status of Women's Human Rights Defenders,” Human Rights Watch Oral Statement during the Annual Day of Discussion on Women's Human Rights, June 26, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/26/un-human-rights-council-call-recognize-status-womens-human-rights-defenders.

[xx] “Sudan: Surge in Detention, Beatings, Around Elections,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 28, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/28/sudan-surge-detention-beatings-around-elections.

[xxi] “Afghanistan: Urgent Need for Safe Facilities for Female Police,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 25, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/04/25/afghanistan-urgent-need-safe-facilities-female-police.

[xxii] “Afghanistan: Surge in Women Jailed for ‘Moral Crimes,’” Human Rights Watch news release, May 21, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/05/21/afghanistan-surge-women-jailed-moral-crimes.

[xxiii] Human Rights Watch, “Here, Rape is Normal”: A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia, February 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/02/13/here-rape-normal/five-point-plan-curtail-sexual-violence-somalia.

[xxiv] “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/14/iraq-isis-escapees-describe-systematic-rape.

[xxv] Human Rights Watch, “We are Still Here”: Women on the Front Lines of Syria's Conflict, July 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/07/02/we-are-still-here/women-front-lines-syrias-conflict.

[xxvi] “Sudan: Soldiers, Militias Killing, Raping Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 14, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/12/14/sudan-soldiers-militias-killing-raping-civilians; “Sudan: Mass Rape by Army in Darfur,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 11, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/11/sudan-mass-rape-army-darfur.

[xxvii] Human Rights Watch, “Those Terrible Weeks in their Camp”: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria, October 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/10/27/those-terrible-weeks-their-camp/boko-haram-violence-against-women-and-girls.

[xxviii] “Iraq: ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 14, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/14/iraq-isis-escapees-describe-systematic-rape.

29 United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on women and peace and security,  S/2014/693, p. 19.

[xxx] Human Rights Watch, “As if We Weren’t Human”: Discrimination and Violence against Women with Disabilities in Northern Uganda, August 2010, https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/08/26/if-we-werent-human/discrimination-and-violence-against-women-disabilities-northern.

[xxxi] Human Rights Watch, Rights Out of Reach: Obstacles to Health, Justice, and Protection for Displaced Victims of Gender-Based Violence in Colombia, November 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/11/14/rights-out-reach/obstacles-health-justice-and-protection-displaced-victims-gender, p. 5.

[xxxii] World Bank and World Health Organization, “World Report on Disability,” 2011, http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789240685215_eng.pdf (accessed July 21, 2015), p. 8.

[xxxiii] Human Rights Watch, “As if We Weren’t Human.”

[xxxiv] See International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary International Humanitarian Law (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), rule 22, citing Protocol I, art. 58(c) and rule 93 (prohibiting rape and other forms of sexual violence).

[xxxv] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (art. 7) and protects women’s right to be free from discrimination based on sex (arts. 2(1) and 26). ICCPR, adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, arts. 2 and 16; Rome Statute, arts. 7 and 8. The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that governments violate their treaty obligations not only when state actors are responsible for the action, but also when the state fails to take necessary steps to prevent violations caused by private actors. The committee’s General Recommendation No. 31 to the ICCPR notes that governments must “take appropriate measures or … exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by such acts by private persons or entities.” The Committee against Torture requires governments to prevent and protect victims from gender-based violence and rape by exercising due diligence in investigating, prosecuting, and punishing perpetrators—even private actors—of rape and sexual assault.

[xxxvi] See four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Protocols Additional of 1977. Other sources of international humanitarian law are the 1907 Hague Convention and Regulations, decisions of international tribunals, and customary law.

[xxxvii] Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.

[xxxviii] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted December 18, 1979, G.A. res. 34/180, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 193, U.N. Doc. A/34/46, entered into force September 3, 1981.

[xxxix] Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force Sept. 2, 1990, arts. 2, 34, 37, 43.

[xl] Human Rights Watch, Silenced and Forgotten: Survivors of Nepal’s Conflict-Era Sexual Violence, September 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/23/silenced-and-forgotten/survivors-nepals-conflict-era-sexual-violence.

[xli] The United Nations has documented at least 135 victims in this case. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office on Human Rights Violations Perpetrated by Soldiers of the Congolese Armed Forces and Combatants of the M23 in Goma and Sake, North Kivu Province, and In and Around Minova, South Kivu Province, From 15 November to 2 December 2012,” May 2013, p. 4,  http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/CD/UNJHROMay2013_en.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015).

[xlii] “DR Congo: War Crimes by M23, Congolese Army,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 5, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/05/dr-congo-war-crimes-m23-congolese-army; “Revealed: how the world turned its back on rape victims of Congo,” The Guardian, undated, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/13/rape-victims-congo-world-turned-away (accessed July 8, 2015).

[xliii] United Nations General Assembly, “Fifty-ninth session, Agenda item 77, Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects,” March 24, 2005 http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/59/710 (accessed July 8, 2015); United Nations Secretariat, Secretary-General’s Bulletin, “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,” October 9, 2003, https://cdu.unlb.org/Portals/0/PdfFiles/PolicyDocC.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015); Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), “Evaluation Report: Evaluation of the Enforcement and Remedial Assistance Efforts for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by the United Nations and Related Personnel in Peacekeeping Operations,” May 2015, https://oios.un.org/page?slug=evaluation-report (accessed July 23, 2015).

[xliv] Somini Sengupta, “Allegations Against French Peacekeepers Highlight Obstacles in Addressing Abuse,” New York Times, May 25, 2015, (accessed July 8, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/world/europe/allegations-against-french-peacekeepers-highlight-obstacles-in-addressing-abuse.html.

[xlv] The obligation of states to prosecute grave breaches of international humanitarian law is outlined in each of the Geneva Conventions.

[xlvi] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, pp. 591-93, 607-10.

[xlvii] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), U.N. Doc. A/CONF.183/9, July 17, 1998, entered into force July 1, 2002. The Rome Statute is the treaty creating the ICC. Command responsibility is an established principle of customary international humanitarian law and has been incorporated into the Rome Statute.

[xlviii] Rome Statute, art. 28.

[xlix] See UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, Nature of the General Legal Obligation on States Parties to the Covenant, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 (2004) , para. 15. See also, Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity (“Impunity Principles”), U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1, February 8, 2005, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in Resolution E/CN.4/2005/81, April 15, 2005, principle I; Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, adopted December 16, 2005, G.A. res. 60/147, U.N. Doc. A/RES/60/147 (2005), principle 11.

[l] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, para. 16.

[li] UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, December 20, 1993, G.A. res. 48/104, 48 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 217, U.N. Doc. A/48/49 (1993).

[lii] International Criminal Court, Office of the Prosecutor, Policy Paper on Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes, June 2014, http://www.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/otp/OTP-Policy-Paper-on-Sexual-and-Gender-Based-Crimes--June-2014.pdf (accessed July 8, 2015).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Liesl Gerntholtz is the executive director of the women's rights division. She is an expert on women's rights in Africa and has worked and written extensively on violence against women and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. Her work at Human Rights Watch has included documenting access to safe and legal abortion in Ireland and sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Before joining Human Rights Watch, Liesl worked for some of the key constitutional institutions promoting human rights and democracy in a post-apartheid South Africa, including the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission on Gender Equality.  A lawyer by training, she was involved in high-profile, strategic human rights litigation to promote women and children's rights, including a case that changed the definition of rape in South Africa.

NPR Interview - Women's Rights In The Age Of The Arab Spring

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Indonesia said it will stop administering “virginity tests” to female aspiring civil servants as part of its admission process. The country’s Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo announced this change—which will affect women working in government offices—on the heels of Human Rights Watch research that documented this degrading practice in the admission process for another branch of the Indonesian government, the National Police force.

Human Rights Watch found that the testing included the invasive “two-finger test” to determine whether female applicants’ hymens are intact. Minister Kumolo said that it was “illogical” to recruit a student based on her virginity and noted that a woman’s hymen could be torn due to sports, exercise, or other accidents. 

Rumors about these tests have circulated for decades, but Human Rights Watch brought the issue into the national spotlight by gathering concrete testimony from eight  current and former police women and applicants as well as police doctors, a police recruitment evaluator, a National Police Commission member, and several prominent women’s rights activists. The women we interviewed described the examination as frightening, humiliating, and extremely painful.  

Virginity tests are a form of gender-based violence, cannot be administered to men, and are inherently degrading and discriminatory. Moreover, these tests have been widely discredited by the scientific community and the World Health Organization. For years, Human Rights Watch has been pushing for an end to this practice and documenting cases of abusive testing in Indonesia and several other countries including Egypt, India, and Afghanistan

Ending virginity tests for Institute of Public Administration applicants is an important step forward, but much remains to be done.  Recently, the municipal government of Indonesia’s city of Jember in east Java proposed forcing female high school students to pass a virginity test before they could receive their diploma. This time, however, officials quickly back-pedaled from the proposal.

Indonesia’s National Police and the Indonesian Armed Forces have yet to follow the Institute of Public Administration’s lead. Despite Human Rights Watch’s findings, police officials continue to deny administering virginity tests, claiming that the female recruits are simply undergoing a required “medical examination.” Human Rights Watch’s research has also revealed that the military—the air force, the army, and the navy—has for decades also extended the “virginity test” requirement to female recruits as well as the fiancées of military officers prior to marriage.

Indonesia's police and military need to abolish virginity testing and make sure their recruiting stations across the country stop using it as well.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 12, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters
 
(Beirut) – Saudi authorities have arrested two more women’s rights activists in recent days in what appears to be an unrelenting crackdown on the women’s rights movement, Human Rights Watch said today. Saudi activists have reported that the authorities have placed travel bans on numerous others since May 15.
 
On June 6, Saudi authorities arrested the writer and activist Nouf Abdelaziz, who had publicly expressed solidarity with three women’s rights activists arrested in May, along with at least 14 other activists and supporters. On June 10, the authorities arrested Mayaa al-Zahrani, an activist and friend of Abdelaziz, after she reportedly posted a letter Abdelaziz asked her to make public in case of her arrest. In the letter, addressed to her fellow Saudis, Abdelaziz explained who she was, stressing that she committed no crime: “I am not a provoker, not a vandalizer, not a terrorist, a criminal or a traitor… I have never been [anything] but a good citizen who loves her country and wishes for it nothing but the best.” Both women are being held incommunicado.
 
“The Saudi government appears determined to leave its citizens without any space to show even rhetorical support for activists jailed in this unforgiving crackdown on dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani’s only ‘crime’ seems to be expressing solidarity with their fellow imprisoned activists.”
 
On June 4, the local newspaper Okaz reported that nine detained activists, four women and five men, will soon be referred to the Specialized Criminal Court, which was originally established to try detainees held in connection with terrorism offenses, to be tried for committing three “serious” crimes: “cooperating with entities hostile to the kingdom,” “recruiting persons in a sensitive government agency to obtain confidential information to harm the interests of the kingdom,” and “providing financial and moral support to hostile elements abroad.”
 
Okaz earlier reported that, 15 days into the activists’ detention, an investigating body had announced that all nine detainees had confessed to the latter two accusations. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.
 
Among those arrested are the prominent women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef; Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh, a lawyer; Mohammad al-Rabea, an activist; and Abdulaziz al-Meshaal, a philanthropist. They face charges similar to those against several imprisoned activists currently serving lengthy prison terms, including Waleed Abu al-Khair, Fadil al-Manasif, and Nadhir al-Majed. Immediately following their arrest, in a coordinated campaign, local media outlets publicly accused those detained of treason.
 
The recent crackdown on women’s rights activists comes just weeks ahead of the much-anticipated lifting of the driving ban on women on June 24 – an occasion several of the currently detained activists had long campaigned to bring about. Saudi authorities arrested Abdelaziz and al-Zahrani just as Saudi Arabia’s Information Ministry began distributing video footage and photos of women proudly displaying their new drivers’ licenses.
 
On May 29, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately release all recently detained activists “if, as it appears, their detention is related solely to their work as human rights defenders and activists on women’s issues.” In a strongly-worded resolution published on May 30, the European Parliament condemned the “ongoing repression of human rights defenders, including women’s rights defenders, in Saudi Arabia” and called on the Saudi government to “put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level,” against them.
 
Human Rights Watch has documented Saudi Arabia’s use of its Specialized Criminal Court and counterterrorism law to unjustly prosecute human rights defenders, writers, and peaceful critics.
 
Following a five-day visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017, the former UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, concluded in his report published on June 6, 2018, that Saudi Arabia had misused its counter-terrorism measures to stifle political dissent, suppress opposition, and silence peaceful critics. Emmerson provided a detailed overview of the nature of the Specialized Criminal Court, where local media reports say that the currently detained activists will be tried. He included sections on the use of torture and coerced confessions, as well as on pre-trial detentions and flawed investigations.
 
“It is imperative for Saudi Arabia’s Western allies to speak out in solidarity with the detained activists and to pressure the Saudi authorities to unconditionally release those detained for their work as human rights activists before they are referred for trial,” Whitson said. “There can be no real celebration on June 24 while the women who campaigned for the right to drive and their supporters remain behind bars.”
 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Fifa has enough influence to demand respect for human rights.

© Weberson Santiago/Veja.com
 
As Russia hosts the World Cup—the biggest single-event sports competition on the planet—the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) should make clear that its rules off the pitch are as important as those on it.

FIFA rules strictly prohibit discrimination of any kind and threaten violators with suspension or expulsion from the federation. Sadly, in the lead-up to the games, Russian authorities have abused journalists and human rights defenders. They are also enforcing anti-gay discriminatory laws and policies.

We know FIFA can move host governments. When Brazil hosted the last World Cup, in 2014, FIFA successfully pressured Congress to change Brazilian law and allow beer to be sold in soccer stadiums. Brazil had banned alcohol at football matches to help stem rowdiness and violence among rival fans. But Budweiser, the beer-maker, was a big sponsor, and FIFA’s then-secretary general insisted that “alcoholic drinks are part of the World Cup.”

If FIFA can influence policies and legislation in countries hosting the World Cup to please sponsors, it certainly can do more to uphold shared values in respect to human rights. FIFA has both a responsibility to protect its fans—including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender fans--and an opportunity to leverage power for the common good.

Russia’s discriminatory anti-gay “propaganda” law entered into force five years ago, shortly before the torch flared for the Sochi Olympics. It outlaws making available positive information about LGBT people that children might see, and it contributed to a rise in anti-gay violence. 

FIFA talks a good game, but often its follow-through is weak. Last year, despite a horrific anti-gay purge in the Russian republic of Chechnya, it put Grozny, the Chechen capital, on its list of official World Cup training sites.

More than 60,000 Brazilians are headed to Russia with tickets in hand, and the foreign affairs minister just issued tourist guidelines recommending that LGBT Brazilians avoid public displays of affection. Fare, a group that fights discrimination in football worldwide, has likewise warned fans with same-sex partners not to hold hands in public during the World Cup. 

Now, as the games kick off in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, it’s time for FIFA to say publicly that Russian authorities should abide by its anti-discrimination rules and ensure that staff and officials provide a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT people at all events—on the pitch, in the stands, and beyond. Top sponsors of the World Cup—including Coca Cola, Visa, and Adidas – should join in the chorus for FIFA to act. Alcoholic drinks may be part of the event this year, but violations of LGBT rights should not be.

It’s not only about Russia. Qatar, which has laws to punish people who engage in same sex relations with one to three years in prison, will host the World Cup in four years. Human rights concerns there were enough to make the fast-food chain McDonald’s announce that after this summer, it will no longer sponsor the World Cup.

The soccer federation has a lot of power. It should make clear to Russia, Qatar, and any other future host that homophobia and any other kind of human rights violation has no role in the games.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

When the head teacher found out that I was pregnant, he called me to his office and told me, “You have to leave our school immediately because you are pregnant.”
—Jamida K., Kahama, Tanzania, April 2014

We don’t allow pregnant girls to continue with school. We ask her to go home and return after the baby is born. If she attends pregnant, she can be ridiculed by other students and be a bad influence.
—Kenneth Tengani Malemia, deputy head teacher, Dyeratu Primary School, Chikwawa district, Malawi, September 2013

The African continent has the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world, according to the United Nations. Every year, thousands of girls become pregnant at the time when they should be learning history, algebra, and life skills. Adolescent girls who have early and unintended pregnancies face many social and financial barriers to continuing with formal education.

All girls have a right to education regardless of their pregnancy, marital or motherhood status. The right of pregnant—and sometimes married—girls to continue their education has evoked emotionally charged discussions across African Union member states in recent years. These debates often focus on arguments around “morality,” that pregnancy outside wedlock is morally wrong, emanating from personal opinions and experiences, and wide-ranging interpretations of religious teachings about sex outside of marriage. The effect of this discourse is that pregnant girls – and to a smaller extent, school boys who impregnate girls– have faced all kinds of punishments, including discriminatory practices that deny girls the enjoyment of their right to education. In some of the countries researched for this report, education is regarded as a privilege that can be withdrawn as a punishment.

“Angela,” 20, walks with her son near her home after returning from school in Migori county, western Kenya. She is a Form 4 student at a girls-only school. Angela became pregnant when her trainee teacher offered to pay some of her primary school fees in return for sex. Her father tried to marry her off to suitors after she gave birth, but Angela’s mother fought against this and supported her return to school. She wants to go to college and study nursing.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

But the international legal obligation of all governments to provide all children with an education, without discrimination, is clear.

In 2013, all the countries that make up the African Union (AU) adopted Agenda 2063, a continent-wide economic and social development strategy. Under this strategy, African governments committed to build Africa’s “human capital,” which it terms “its most precious resource,” through sustained investments in education, including “elimination of gender disparities at all levels of education.” Two years after the adoption of Agenda 2063, African governments joined other countries in adopting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a development agenda whose focus is to ensure that “no one is left behind,” including a promise to ensure inclusive and quality education for all. African governments have also adopted ambitious goals to end child marriage, introduce comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health education, and address the very high rates of teenage pregnancy across the continent that negatively affect girls’ education.

A painting by Rafiki Social Development Organization, displayed outside its office in Kahama district, Shinyanga, Tanzania. The painting aims to create awareness about sexual abuse of girls on their way to schools, and shows a female student refusing to take money from an adult man, saying “Sidanganyiki” or “I cannot be deceived” in Kiswahili. Photograph by Elin Martínez.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

Yet many AU member states will fail in this promise if they continue to exclude tens of thousands of girls from education because they are pregnant or married. Although all AU countries have made human rights commitments to protect pregnant girls and adolescent mothers’ right to education, in practice adolescent mothers are treated very differently depending on which country they live in.

A growing number of AU governments have adopted laws and policies that protect adolescent girls’ right to stay in school during pregnancy and motherhood. There are good policies and practices to point to, and indeed, far more countries protect young mothers’ right to education in national law or policy than discriminate against them. These countries can encourage countries that lack adequate policies, and particularly persuade the minority of countries that have adopted or encouraged punitive and discriminatory measures against adolescent mothers to adopt human rights compliant policies.

Front cover of Zambia’s “Guidelines for the Re-Entry Policy,” adopted in 2007.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

This report provides information on the status of laws, policies, and practices that block or support pregnant or married girls’ access to education. It also provides recommendations for much-needed reforms.

Gabon, Kenya, and Malawi are among the group of 26 African countries that have adopted “continuation” or “re-entry” policies, and strategies, to ensure that pregnant girls can resume their education after giving birth. However, implementation and adherence vary across these countries, especially regarding the length of time the girl should be absent from school, the processes for withdrawal and re-entry, and available support structures within schools and communities for adolescent mothers to remain in school.

“Evelina,” 17, from Migori county, western Kenya, dropped out of the first year of lower secondary school when she got pregnant. She received no information or advice about policies that allowed her to continue going to school while she was pregnant. She wants to continue studying so she can find a job and care for her child.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

Although the trend of more governments opting to keep adolescent mothers in school is strong, implementation of their laws and policies frequently falls short, and monitoring of adolescent mothers’ re-entry to education remains weak overall. There are also concerns about punitive and harmful aspects of some policies. For example, some governments do not apply a “continuation policy” for re-entry – where a pregnant student would be allowed to remain in school for as long as she chooses to. Long periods of maternity leave, complex re-entry processes such as those that require medical certification, as in Senegal, or letters to various education officials in Malawi, or stringent conditions that girls apply for readmission to a different school, can negatively affect adolescent mothers’ willingness to return to school or ability to catch up with learning.

Many other factors contribute to thousands of adolescent mothers not continuing formal education. High among them is the lack of awareness about re-entry policies among communities, girls, teachers, and school officials that girls can and should go back to school. Girls are most often deeply affected by financial barriers, the lack of support, and high stigma in communities and schools alike.

Some governments have focused on tackling these barriers, as well as the root causes of teenage pregnancies and school dropouts, for example by:

  • Removing primary and secondary school fees to ensure all students can access school equally, and targeting financial support for girls at risk of dropping out through girls’ education strategies, as in Rwanda;
  • Providing social and financial support for adolescent mothers, as in South Africa;
  • Providing special accommodations for young mothers at school, for instance time for breast-feeding or time off when babies are ill or to attend health clinics, as in Cape Verde and Senegal;
  • Providing girls with a choice of access to morning or evening shifts, as in Zambia;
  • Establishing nurseries or early childhood centers close to schools, as in Gabon;
  • Providing school-based counselling services for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, as in Malawi; and
  • Facilitating access to sexual and reproductive health services, including comprehensive sexuality education at school and in the community, as in Ivory Coast, and access to a range of contraceptive methods, and in South Africa, safe and legal abortion.

Despite these positive steps by some African countries, a significant number still impose laws and policies that directly discriminate against pregnant girls and adolescent mothers in education. For example, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania expel pregnant girls from school and deny adolescent mothers the right to study in public schools. In most cases, such policies end a girl’s chances of ever going back to school, and expose her and her children to child marriage, hardship, and abuse. In practice, girls are expelled, but not the boys responsible for the pregnancy where they are also in school.

“Ruhiyyeh,” 17, from the city of Kolda, southern Senegal, got pregnant when she was in the final year of lower secondary school. The school’s principal and a secondary school teacher encouraged her to go back to school after delivery, and now ensure she gets time off when her baby is unwell. Photograph by Elin Martínez.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch also found that 24 African countries lack a re-entry policy or law to protect pregnant girls’ right to education, which leads to irregular enforcement of compulsory education at the school level. We found that countries in northern Africa generally lack policies related to the treatment of teenage pregnancies in school, but in parallel, impose heavy penalties and punishments on girls and women who are reported to have had sexual relationships outside wedlock. Countries such as Morocco and Sudan, for example, apply morality laws that allow them to criminally charge adolescent girls with adultery, indecency, or extra-marital sex.

Some countries resort to harmful means to identify pregnant girls, and sometimes stigmatize and publicly shame them. Some conduct mandatory pregnancy tests on girls, either as part of official government policy or individual school practice. These tests are usually done without the consent of girls and infringe on their right to privacy and dignity. Some girls fear such humiliation that they will preemptively drop out of school when they find out they are pregnant, while others will go to great lengths to procure unsafe abortions, putting their health and lives at risk.

Students enrolled in the final year of lower secondary school in the classroom in a village in Kolda region, southern Senegal. Adolescent mothers and married girls study in this school. Photograph by Elin Martínez.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Government policies that discriminate against girls on the basis of pregnancy or marriage violate their international and regional human rights obligations, and often contravene national laws and constitutional rights and undermine national development agendas.

Leaving pregnant girls and adolescent mothers behind is harmful to the continent’s development. Leaving no one behind means that African governments should recommit to their inclusive development goals and human rights obligations toward all children, and ensure they adopt human rights compliant policies at the national and local levels to protect pregnant and adolescent mothers’ right to education. Early and unintended pregnancies jeopardize educational attainment for thousands of girls. For this reason, governments need to prevent them by ensuring their educational institutions provide knowledge, information, and skills, so that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers can enjoy their right to continue their education.

Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa.

 

Recommendations

To All African Union Governments

Immediately End Pregnancy-Based Discrimination in Schools in Policy and Practice

  • End, in policy and practice, the expulsion of female students who become pregnant or get married and provide accommodations for pregnant and married students in schools.
  • Immediately end pregnancy testing in schools.
  • Ensure cases of sexual harassment and abuse, including by bus drivers, teachers, or school officials, are reported to appropriate enforcement authorities, including police, and that cases are duly investigated and prosecuted.

Ensure Pregnant Students and Young Mothers Can Resume Education

  • Immediately adopt positive re-entry policies and expedite regulations that facilitate pregnant girls and young mothers of school-going age returning to primary and secondary school.
  • Ensure that pregnant and married students who wish to continue their education can do so in an environment free from stigma and discrimination, including by allowing female students to choose an alternative school, and monitor schools’ compliance.
  • Link pregnant, married and student mothers to health services, such as family planning clinics.
  • Introduce formal flexible school programs, including evening classes or part-time classes, for girls who are not able to attend full-time classes, and ensure students receive full accreditation and certificates of secondary education upon completion.
  • Include adolescent mothers in programs that target female students at risk of dropping out, and ensure targeted programs include measures to provide financial assistance to at risk students, counselling, school grants, and distribution of inclusive educational materials and sanitation facilities, including menstrual hygiene management kits in schools.
  • Expand options for childcare and early childhood development centers for children of adolescent mothers so that girls of school-going age can attend school.
  • Ensure that humanitarian education responses in conflict contexts include the particular needs of pregnant girls and young mothers of school-going age.
  • Provide access to information to parents, guardians, and community leaders about the harmful physical, educational, and psychological effects of adolescent pregnancy and the importance of pregnant girls and young mother continuing with school.
  • Provide school-based counselling services for students who are pregnant, married or mothers. Provide long-term psychosocial support to adolescent survivors of sexual abuse and harassment.
  • Engage with teachers and other education officials to support the education of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, and to ensure they guarantee a safe school environment.
  • Improve Data and Monitor Implementation of School Policies on Pregnant Students. Schools should:
    • Improve monitoring and data collection on girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or marriage;
    • Develop and implement mechanisms to follow up on and keep track of girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or marriage, with the aim of initiating their return to school;
    • Monitor implementation of school re-entry policies by keeping data on the number of pregnant and married students who get readmitted, their school attendance and completion rates; and use the information to improve support for pregnant, married, and student mothers.

Urgently Tackle Barriers that Impede Girls’ Education

  • Ensure primary education is genuinely free by removing tuition fees, and treat access to free secondary education as an urgent and immediate priority rather than as a goal to be realized progressively over time. Take steps to address the indirect costs of primary and secondary schooling.
  • Raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 for both boys and girls and take all necessary measures to eliminate child marriages in law and practice, including by implementing comprehensive and well-resourced national strategies for combating child marriage, and sharing best practices.
  • Implement nationwide programs to empower girls to attend school. Design programs tailored to local communities that respond to children’s needs and aim to build their skills on a range of issues, including: awareness about sexual and reproductive health, menstrual hygiene management, awareness about sexual consent, sexual violence, and child marriage, as well as mechanisms for reporting any abuse and obtaining assistance.
  • Implement public information campaigns directed at families, community leaders, and adolescent boys and girls that address the stigma around teenage pregnancy, sexuality, and reproduction, and discuss the importance of sex education and promote ways for parents to talk about healthy sexual practices.

Guarantee Young People’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights

  • Include mandatory sexual and reproductive health education as a stand-alone, examinable subject in the primary and secondary school curriculum.
  • Ensure that the mandatory national curriculum on sexuality and reproductive health complies with international standards and that it:
    • Includes comprehensive information on sexuality and reproductive health, including information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, responsible sexual behavior, and prevention of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Include information and skills related to gender equality, the ability to form healthy relationships, consent to sex and marriage and the difference, and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, including avenues for reporting and redress;
    • Is mandatory, age-appropriate, and scientifically accurate;
    • Include modules appropriate for teaching in primary school; and
    • Is informed by consultations with young people.
  • Adequately train teachers to teach the curriculum impartially.
  • Ensure that sexual and reproductive health education and information is accessible to students with disabilities and is available in accessible formats such as braille or easy-to-understand formats.
  • Adopt laws that set out the minimum age of consent to sexual activity and access to sexual and reproductive health services, equal for adolescent boys and girls, in accordance with international human rights norms and best practice.
  • Ensure adolescents can access community-based health services that are adolescent-friendly and ensure they can access accurate information and appropriate contraception to curb teenage pregnancies, HIV, and sexually transmitted diseases. Third party permission for accessing these services should not be required and member states should strive to ensure that user fees are not charged for contraception.
  • Ensure health centers do not stigmatize adolescents who are sexually active, and that they are staffed with medical personnel qualified to provide confidential and comprehensive adolescent health services.
  • Take all necessary steps, both immediate and incremental, to decriminalize abortion and ensure that adolescent girls and young women have informed and free access to safe and legal abortion services as an element of their exercise of their reproductive and other human rights.

To the African Union

  • Call on member states to end pregnancy-based discrimination in schools and related abuses, including mandatory pregnancy testing.
  • Consider conducting a continental campaign to support education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers. Such a campaign would build on achievements of the Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa and the African Youth Decade Plan of Action, as well as other regional initiatives including the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), the African Women’s Decade and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016 – 2025 (CESA 16-25).
  • Conduct a comprehensive study on existing laws, policies, and practices that support or block education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers among African Union member states, with the aim of facilitating a coordinated and comprehensive approach among countries and sharing of good practices.
  • Develop a human rights compliant model re-entry policy and guidelines for governments to adhere to while developing laws, policies, or guidelines to support education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers at national and local levels. Encourage governments to adopt progressive policies that permit pregnant students to remain in school for as long as they choose to, and not prescribe a rigid compulsory leave after giving birth.

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

  • Call on governments to repeal legislation and policies that discriminate against pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, including criminal laws that impose heavy criminal charges for sex outside marriage.
  • Monitor governments’ compliance around implementation of policies to support education for pregnant and married girls, and adolescent mothers during government’s reviews under the relevant human rights instruments.

To Development Partners and UN Agencies

  • Urge African Union member states to comply with their international and regional human rights obligations. In particular, urge and support governments, through technical and financial assistance, to:
    • End, in policy and practice, the expulsion from schools of female students who become pregnant or get married and immediately end pregnancy testing in schools wherever it is practiced.
    • Expedite the adoption of human rights compliant continuation and re-entry policies for parents of school-going age. Encourage governments to adopt progressive policies that permit pregnant students to remain in school for as long as they would like, and not require compulsory leave after giving birth.
    • Introduce a mandatory comprehensive sexuality education curriculum in primary and secondary schools that complies with international human rights standards; implement this curriculum as an examinable, independent subject.
    • Financially and technically support a comprehensive study on existing laws, policies and practices that support or block education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers among African Union member states, with the aim of facilitating a coordinated and comprehensive approach among countries and sharing of good practices.
    • Support the development of a human rights compliant model policy and guidelines for governments to adhere to in developing policies or guidelines to support education for pregnant and married girls and adolescent mothers at national and local levels.
    • Ensure primary education is genuinely free by removing tuition fees, and access to free secondary education is treated as an urgent and immediate priority rather than as a goal to be realized progressively over time. Support governments to take steps to address the indirect costs of primary and secondary schooling.

 

Methodology

Human Rights Watch conducted a study of laws, policies and practices related to pregnant adolescents in education in all member states of the African Union. We also reviewed governments’ education, health, and reproductive health sector strategies and reports, academic research, analysis of laws and practice conducted by national and international organizations on this topic, as well as newspaper articles.

Human Rights Watch contacted six ministries of education and/or country delegations to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), including Angola, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Mali, to seek official responses on policies and practices applicable in these countries. We also consulted national and regional civil society organizations working on girls’ education and health.

The report includes testimony from pregnant girls and adolescent mothers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Malawi, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. It draws on Human Rights Watch’s extensive research on the rights of girls in Africa, including abuses related to child marriage, barriers to girls’ primary and secondary education, sexual and gender-based violence, and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.[1]

 

I. Background: Adolescent Pregnancy
and Girls’ Education in Africa

I fell pregnant last year when I was 14 years old. I had stopped going to school that same year because my mother … could not afford to send me to school. I had an affair with an older man who had a wife. I received no sex education at all, and when I had sex with this man I fell pregnant. I wish to go back to school because I am still a child.
—Abigail C., 15, Zimbabwe, October 2015

Adolescent Pregnancy in Africa

Adolescent pregnancy has been stubbornly high in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the world’s highest prevalence.[2] Every year thousands of African girls become pregnant right at the time they should be learning history, algebra, and life skills.[3] Girls from poor and more marginalized households and communities are among the most affected.[4]

The main causes of teenage pregnancy in Africa include sexual exploitation and abuse, poverty, lack of information about sexuality and reproduction, and lack of access to services such as family planning and modern contraception.[5] Many of these pregnancies are unplanned and many happen in the context of child marriages, a big problem in the continent. About 38 percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa are married before the age of 18 and 12 percent before age 15.[6] African countries account for 15 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of child marriage globally.[7] Yet many African Union governments have failed to adopt a minimum age of marriage of 18 to help protect girls against this abuse and uphold their rights to and through education.[8]

Stigma around Adolescent Sex and Pregnancy Outside Marriage

In many African countries, education and health personnel often shame, stigmatize and sometimes isolate adolescent girls who have early and unintended pregnancies. Condemnation by political leaders or in the media can encourage and exacerbate their stigmatization. Such girls also face increased vulnerability to violence and abuse, or greater poverty and economic hardship.[9]

When it comes to schooling, some governments use morality-based arguments to exclude pregnant girls and young mothers. Allowing them to continue their education, the argument goes, will normalize out-of-wedlock pregnancy, absolve the girls of punishment, and create a “domino effect” by which more girls become pregnant. [10]Such arguments are not grounded in any authoritative studies.[11] In Malawi, Senegal, South Sudan and Tanzania, girls who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that they were committed to their education, and are already fully aware of the difficulty of becoming a young mother without additional penalties being imposed.

Deficient Information and Education on Sexuality and Reproduction for Adolescents

From a young age, many children are exposed to conflicting or negative ideas about sexuality at home or at school. During puberty, families, communities, and schools may especially impose stereotypical expectations of boys’ and girls’ roles, behaviors, and standards of morality. Although such attitudes may stop many children from asking questions, according to UN surveys of adolescent sexual behavior, it does not stop them experimenting: many young people are having sexual relationships, often from a very young age.[12] Many do so without essential information and without adequate access to contraception.[13]

Across the African Union, many governments have failed to implement comprehensive, scientifically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality and reproductive education.[14] This means that many girls and boys have limited understanding of changes in their bodies and adolescent sexual behavior, prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, the menstrual cycle, basic reproduction, and sexual and gender-based violence. In Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, many girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch did not know they could become pregnant the first time they had sexual intercourse.[15]

Some countries continue to teach abstinence from sexual relationships before marriage.[16] Global scientific, sociological and human rights evidence shows that an abstinence-only curriculum leads to no visible change in adolescent sexual behavior.[17] A heavy focus on abstinence also isolates and humiliates many adolescents who have already had sex, and prevents them from obtaining the information and services that will protect them from abuse, unwanted pregnancy, or HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.[18]

Moreover, very few countries have adopted laws that clarify the age of consent to sexual activity.[19] Some countries still criminalize consensual sexual activity between adolescents, or sexual relationships outside marriage.[20] As part of their efforts on adolescent reproductive rights, UN agencies and human rights treaty monitoring bodies have called on governments to introduce an acceptable minimum legal age for sexual consent, balancing child protection and a child’s evolving capacities.[21] According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which provides authoritative commentary on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, states should include a “legal presumption that adolescents are competent to seek and have access to preventive or time-sensitive sexual and reproductive health commodities and services.” They should also avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity.[22]

The majority of AU countries do not provide accessible adolescent-friendly, confidential sexual and reproductive health services. Moreover, most AU countries criminalize abortion in most circumstances, meaning girls with unplanned pregnancies must either carry those pregnancies to term against their wishes, or obtain clandestine—and often unsafe—abortions.[23] Of all the regions in the world, Africa has the highest number of deaths from unsafe abortion.[24]

Key Barriers to Girls’ Education

I am 16, I ran away from home to get married when I was 14 after I had sex with my boyfriend, who was 21. I was afraid my family would discover that I had had sex, so I went to live with my boyfriend as his wife. I was in grade seven at the time and stopped going to school. After about seven months my husband and his three brothers began to complain that I was not getting pregnant. He never beat me but always complained that I was barren. I used to do a lot of hard work washing clothes, cleaning and cooking for my husband and his relatives. After two years of marriage he sent me away saying I am barren, and my mother took me back. My wish is to go back to school but my mother cannot afford to send me back to school.
—Munesu C., 16, Zimbabwe, October 2015

Across the African continent, girls face unique challenges in education attainment due to structural and systematic gender inequalities. Despite government efforts, there remain significant gender disparities in educational opportunities and clear gender gaps in learning and skills achievement.[25]

The barriers to girls’ education are wide-ranging and interlinked, but few African governments have tackled the key factors that drive millions of girls out of school, including:

  • High school fees combined with indirect costs of attending primary and secondary school[26];
  • Unsafe school environments including sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation by teachers, school officials and classmates; stigma linked to pregnancy and marital status; corporal punishment by teachers and school officials, which sometimes amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment; and long distances to schools in rural areas that expose girls to sexual violence and other safety risks[27];
  • Discrimination by teachers and school officials, and lack of accessibility for girls with disabilities[28];
  • Poor infrastructure including lack of adequate water and toilets, and running water, to manage menstrual periods[29]; and
  • Harmful gender norms and stereotypes that do not support education of girls and women, discrimination, and cultural practices such as child marriage.[30]

Pregnancy is both a barrier to girls’ continuing their education and, often a consequence of girls dropping out. Numerous studies have shown that the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married as a child and or to become pregnant during her teenage years.[31]

 

II. Pregnant Girls and Adolescent Mothers’ Education: Human Rights Obligations of Governments

African governments are bound by international human rights law to provide free, compulsory primary education and to ensure that secondary education is available and accessible to all without discrimination.[32]The right to secondary education includes “the completion of basic education and consolidation of the foundations for life-long learning and human development.”[33]

Human Rights Watch has called on governments around the world t0 take immediate measures to ensure that secondary education is available and accessible to all free of charge. It is recognized that many governments in Africa and elsewhere face serious resource constraints that limit their ability to immediately realize important human rights goals such as free secondary education for all. Human Rights Watch nonetheless believes that it is important for governments to treat access to free secondary education as an urgent and immediate priority rather than as a goal to be realized progressively over time.

At the African regional level, the AU has adopted a legal framework that protects the rights of all girls to education. All but seven African countries have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which obligates governments to take special measures to ensure equal access to education for girls, raise the minimum age of marriage to 18, and take all appropriate measures to ensure that girls who become pregnant before completing their education have the right to continue their education.[34]

The African Youth Charter–ratified by more than half of African governments– obligates governments to ensure girls and young women who become pregnant or married before completing their education have an opportunity to continue their education.[35] The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child have called on states to put in place measures to retain all children in school, put in place measures to achieve equal access to education by girls and boys, and to encourage pregnant girls to attend or return to school. These bodies have jointly stated that, “it is compulsory… to facilitate the retention and re-entry of pregnant or married girls in schools… and to develop alternative education programmes… in circumstances where women are unable or unwilling to return to school following pregnancy or marriage.”[36]

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the African women’s rights treaty, provides explicit obligations to guarantee the sexual and reproductive rights of girls.[37] This includes the right to access medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest or where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s mental and physical health and life.[38]

 

III. Teenage Pregnancy and Education Exclusion
in the African Union

There was a [private] tuition teacher who was teaching me privately. I was sexually [abused] by the teacher until I found myself pregnant. After I discovered I was pregnant, I told the teacher and he disappeared. My dream was shattered then. I was expelled from school. I was expelled from home, too. I went to live with my friend until I gave birth. I was taking care of my baby on my own by doing small business. Until now.
—Imani, 22, Mwanza, Tanzania, January 2016

A growing number of African Union countries have adopted laws and policies that protect adolescent girls’ right to stay in school during pregnancy and motherhood. These countries can serve as a model for many other countries that lack adequate policies, and particularly persuade the minority of countries that have adopted or encouraged punitive and discriminatory measures against adolescent mothers to adopt human rights compliant policies. Although it is noteworthy that more governments are opting to keep adolescent mothers in school, their laws and policies are not always implemented fully, and monitoring of adolescent mothers’ re-entry to education remains weak overall.

Countries with Continuation or Re-entry Laws and Policies

Twenty-six AU countries have laws, policies or strategies in place to guarantee girls’ right to go back to school after pregnancy.[39]

Within this group of countries, six have laws that allow girls to continue their education.[40] However, the lack of policies that stipulate the process to be followed by schools in order to secure girls’ continuation after pregnancy often results in girls being expelled from school.[41]

Countries with national laws related to pregnant girls’ and mothers’ right to education

Benin

Democratic Republic of Congo

Lesotho

Mauritania

Nigeria

South Sudan

Four countries have policies or strategies that provide “continuation:” they allow the pregnant girl to remain in school, and do not prescribe a mandatory absence after giving birth.[42]

Countries with policies or strategies that provide “continuation”

Cape Verde

Gabon

Ivory Coast

Rwanda

Fifteen countries have conditional re-entry policies that require pregnant girls and young mothers to drop out of school but provide avenues to return, provided girls fulfill certain conditions.[43] Re-entry policies typically require that a student leaves school once she is found to be pregnant. In some cases, if the person responsible for the pregnancy is a student in the school he will also need to take leave of absence.[44] The girl may be readmitted – sometimes in a different school – after giving birth.[45] Policies and practice vary especially regarding the length of time the girl should be absent from school and the processes for withdrawal and re-entry.[46]

Countries with “re-entry” policies that set out conditions for adolescent mothers

Botswana

Burundi

Cameroon

Gambia

Kenya

Liberia

Madagascar

Malawi

Mozambique

Namibia

Senegal

South Africa

Swaziland

Zambia

Zimbabwe

 

Some conditions for re-entry are difficult for girls to meet.[47] In some cases, these are complicated or unclear, or include harmful directives such as mandatory pregnancy screening.[48] In Malawi, for example, girls are immediately suspended upon discovery of their pregnancy for one year but may be readmitted at the beginning of the next academic year following their suspension. A young mother who wishes to reapply for admission must send two requests: one to the Ministry of Education and one to the school she wishes to attend.[49] In Senegal, adolescent mothers must present a medical certificate showing they are healthy and fit to study in order to be re-admitted.[50]

Beyond their re-entry policies, some of these governments have addressed specific barriers to young mothers’ returning to school, for example:

  • Removing primary and secondary school fees and indirect costs;
  • Providing special accommodations for young mothers at school, for instance time for breast-feeding or allowing girls to take time off when their children are ill[51];
  • Implementing flexible learning arrangements, such as giving girls the option to access morning or evening shifts[52];
  • Providing social and financial support to adolescent mothers[53];
  • Establishing nurseries or early childhood centers close to secondary schools[54]; and
  • Providing school-based counselling services for pregnant girls and/or adolescent mothers.[55]

Senegal: Supporting the Inclusion of Young Mothers

 

In 2007, Senegal adopted a circular on “the management of marriage and pregnancies at school,” which orders schools to temporarily suspend girls from education until childbirth for “security” reasons. To go back to school, girls must show a medical certificate that shows they are ready to return to school. Girls can get these certificates when they visit local health clinics or hospitals.

In practice, Human Rights Watch found that girls are allowed to stay in school until they are unable to attend, although some schools ask girls to drop out during the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. Pregnant girls or young mothers can also take examinations. A principal in the southern town of Vélingara said that supporting pregnant girls is crucial to ensure they return once they are ready to resume their education: “There’s an awareness among staff that if they [young mothers] are late, or absent because of their babies, we understand [them]. [We also accommodate] pregnant girls who may fall asleep in class, or those who request some food because they are hungry.”

Fatoumata, 17, lives in Sédhiou and attends a secondary school in the city. She became pregnant when she was 16 and was allowed to stay at the school. A month after giving birth, she continued going to school. Her grandmother took care of her baby daughter. “I didn’t want to have a baby,” Fatoumata told Human Rights Watch. “I’ve told all my friends that they do not try to have a baby… it causes many problems… But if you do have a baby, then you should go back to school after the birth. There’s no need to feel ashamed. Mistakes are human.” Fatoumata was not taught about sexual and reproductive health at school. “It would have been very useful to have information about contraceptive methods,” she said.

Human Rights Watch found that in some Senegalese schools, teachers focus their discussions on abstinence and virginity prior to marriage. Some schools host school clubs to talk to students about contraceptive methods, and prevention of pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Human Rights Watch found that in some clubs, girls are falsely told that contraceptives are bad for girls who are not married because they reduce their chances of getting pregnant or can lead to the fetus’s death during pregnancy.

In many cases, poor dissemination at the school level and lack of awareness of these policies by teachers, communities, and girls themselves limit their effectiveness.[56] For example, education officials do not proactively follow-up on girls who left school due to pregnancy to initiate re-entry. Data is largely lacking on the number of girls who drop out due to pregnancy; teenage mothers that have been readmitted to school under the policies; the challenges they face after readmission; and, the performance of adolescent mothers once they are back at school.[57]

Some countries have moved from restrictive and even punitive policies to providing pathways for girls to continue.[58] In 2017, for example, Cape Verde reversed its expulsion policy, providing pregnant students with maternity leave, and committed to guarantee reasonable accommodations in schools with young mothers.[59]

At time of writing, in Ghana and Uganda, government and civil society actors were discussing school re-entry policies or guidelines for young mothers’ education.[60]

Countries affected by armed conflict typically have high pregnancy rates due, in part, to widespread sexual violence committed by members of national armed forces and armed groups, and high levels of poverty that facilitates sexual exploitation. These countries especially need strong re-entry policies. Crisis situations increase gender inequality and gender-based discrimination, which is already present in many countries undergoing conflict. Some survivors of sexual violence never return to school because of stigma and humiliation, and those who do return to school often lack support to continue their education.[61] The Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, for example, have laws that protect young mothers’ right to go back to school.[62] In contrast, Human Rights Watch found that the Central African Republic lacks a targeted law or policy.[63]

Human Rights Watch found that education needs-analysis and responses in humanitarian crises seldom include adolescent girls with children.[64] The failure to provide for the education needs of adolescent mothers, including those who are survivors of rape, in humanitarian settings not only limits access to education, but also exposes already vulnerable children to more violence, hardship, and poverty.

Countries that Exclude Adolescent Mothers

A minority of AU governments have continued to explicitly exclude pregnant girls from school. Senior government representatives in countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania have publicly declared that pregnant students are to be expelled from public school.[65]

In these countries, politicians have frequently insisted on punitive measures imposed on girls they accuse of being “moral failures”.[66] In Tanzania, government officials and police have gone so far as arresting pregnant girls and harassing their families to force them to confess who had impregnated them.[67] Many of the girls Human Rights Watch interviewed who dropped out of school or were expelled due to pregnancy or marriage expressed regret at not being able to continue their education.[68]

Although Togo has declared to United Nations bodies that it no longer abides by a regulation that forbids pregnant girls from going to education facilities, it has not officially abrogated it or replaced it with a positive continuation or re-entry policy.[69]

Tanzania: Discriminatory Policies Against Pregnant Girls and Young Mothers

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, among others, have called on the government of Tanzania to cease its discriminatory ban on pregnant girls. Human rights experts have called on the government to urgently ensure pregnant girls and adolescent mothers can resume education in public schools.[70]

Prior to President John Magufuli’s 2017 public ban on pregnant girls and young mothers in schools, senior government education officials contended that pregnant girls do not belong in school and may exert negative influence on other girls, “normalizing” pregnancy in school.[71] The expulsion of pregnant girls from schools is permitted under Tanzania’s education regulations, which state that “the expulsion of a pupil from school may be ordered where … a pupil has … committed an offence against morality” or “entered into wedlock.” [72] The policy does not explain what offences against morality are, but school officials often interpret pregnancy as such an offense. Secondary school officials routinely subject girls to forced pregnancy testing as a disciplinary measure to expel pregnant students from schools.

In 2018, the government has been preparing new guidelines that will outline entry into an existing parallel public basic education system for young mothers, similar to an existing track for out-of-school children. Human Rights Watch found that this system is deficient, comes at a high cost for students, and does not equip students with the same skills or provide similar accreditation. Students pursuing this route have to pay fees that can amount to about 500,000 Tanzanian shillings (TZS) (US$220) annually, whereas students in public schools do not pay tuition or indirect costs. Access to good vocational training is only provided in a handful of colleges spread across the country. Moreover, adolescents who leave secondary school prematurely lack the accreditation and studies needed to pursue an official vocational education and skills training degree.[73]

Countries Lacking Clear Policies

Twenty-four countries lack a re-entry policy or law to protect pregnant girls’ right to education, including at least six countries that criminalize sex outside marriage. [74] This often leads to irregular enforcement of compulsory education at the school level, where school officials can decide what happens with a pregnant girl’s education. In Burkina Faso, for example, government officials have adopted a strategy to prevent teenage pregnancies, but school officials often ban pregnant girls from school because of strong social norms, as well as stigma attached to having children outside wedlock.[75] In Angola, for example, pregnant girls are asked to shift to night schools.[76]

Countries Lacking Clear Policies or Legislation

Angola

Burkina Faso

Central African Republic

Chad

Comoros

Djibouti

Eritrea

Ethiopia

Ghana

Guinea

Guinea-Bissau

Mauritius

Niger

Republic of Congo

São Tomé e Príncipe

Seychelles

Somalia

Uganda

Countries that Criminalize Sex Outside Marriage

Human Rights Watch found that countries in northern Africa generally lack policies related to the treatment of teenage pregnancies in school, but at the same time impose heavy punishments on girls and women who are reported to have had sexual relationships outside wedlock.[77] Countries such as Morocco and Sudan, for example, apply “morality laws” that allow them to prosecute adolescent girls or young women and charge them with adultery, indecency or extra-marital sex.[78] Girls and young women with children, who are often perceived to bring dishonor to their communities, are exposed to public ridicule, isolation, and prison sentences, and would not be expected to stay in school.[79]

 

Leave No Adolescent Girl Behind?

Countries with expulsion policies or decrees

Countries with conditional “re-entry” policies

Countries with policies or strategies that provide “continuation”

Countries with laws that protect pregnant girls’ right to stay in school or resume education, but lack a policy

Countries with laws or practices that criminalize girls and young women who become pregnant outside marriage

Countries with no laws or policies related to retention of pregnant girls or adolescent mothers in schools

Equatorial Guinea

Botswana

Cape Verde

Benin

Algeria

Angola

Sierra Leone

Burundi

Gabon

Democratic Republic of Congo

Egypt

Burkina Faso

Tanzania

Cameroon

Ivory Coast

Lesotho

Libya

Central African Republic

Togo

Gambia

Rwanda

Mauritania

Mauritania

Chad

 

Kenya

 

Nigeria

Morocco/Western Sahara

Comoros

Liberia

South Sudan

Sudan

Djibouti

Madagascar

 

Tunisia

Eritrea

Malawi

Ethiopia

Mali

Ghana

Mozambique

Guinea

Namibia

Guinea-Bissau

Senegal

Mauritius

South Africa

Niger

 Swaziland

Republic of Congo

Zambia

São Tomé and Príncipe

 Zimbabwe

Seychelles

Somalia

Uganda

 

IV. Opening School Doors to All Adolescent Girls

Pregnancy and child bearing are significant life changing events, more so for young girls. Going through these experiences while still at school – often stigmatized or rejected, with little to no support from the family or school, condemned by government officials, facing economic hardship and sometimes abuse and violence – can present serious challenges for pregnant girls and adolescent mothers to continue with their education.

However, instead of labeling pregnant girls and adolescent mothers as “moral” failures, punishing and excluding them from school, African governments have obligations under international human rights law to encourage and support the education and academic progress of these girls without discrimination.

Overall, a comprehensive approach is needed to reduce early and unplanned teenage pregnancies and support young mothers to continue with education. Good practice from across the continent shows that the education sector can play an important role in addressing teenage pregnancies, including by addressing some of its underlying causes and responding to the educational, health and social impacts and needs of pregnant and adolescent mothers.

African Union countries adhering to good policies and practice have at a minimum focused on the following measures: supporting girls to stay in school by removing primary and secondary school fees to ensure all students can equally access school; providing financial support for at-risk and highly vulnerable girls; ensuring schools are safe for students by ensuring schools have adequate child protection mechanisms; providing adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive health services, including comprehensive sexuality education at school and in the community; and ensuring access to a range of contraceptive methods, and safe and legal abortion.[80]

Schools should ensure the inclusion of all students and take all necessary measures to protect children from sexual abuse, exploitation, or harassment. Schools should also play a key role in providing students with the information and tools to understand changes in adolescence, sexuality, and reproduction, and provide information that enables them to make informed decisions, without the pressure, stereotypes, or myths shared by their friends or communities.

Governments should adopt mandatory national school curricula that includes sexual and reproductive health and rights, responsible sexual behavior, forming healthy relationships, prevention of early pregnancy and marriages, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, gender equality, and awareness and prevention of sexual exploitation and sexual and gender-based violence.[81] Evidence-based technical guidance shows that children should be introduced to age-appropriate content on sexuality and reproductive health in primary school, prior to puberty.[82]

 

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Elin Martínez, researcher in the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, and Agnes Odhiambo, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division. Research for this report was conducted by Elin Martínez, with assistance from Allison Cowie, Aurélie Edjidjimo Mabua and Elena Bagnera, Children’s Rights interns, Ochieng Angayo, research assistant, and Leslie Estrada, Children’s Rights Division associate.

The report was edited by Zama Neff, Children’s Rights Division executive director. James Ross, Legal and Policy director, and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director, provided legal and program reviews. Margaret Wurth, researcher in the Women’s Rights and Children’s Rights Divisions; Maria Burnett, Africa associate director, Corinne Dufka, West Africa associate director; and Mausi Segun, Africa Division executive director, provided expert reviews. The report also benefited from reviews by researchers in the Africa, and Middle East and North Africa divisions. Dr. Chi-Chi Undie, of the Population Council, provided external review. Peter Huvos provided translation assistance. Production assistance was provided by Leslie Estrada, Children’s Rights Division associate, and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.

We would like to thank experts at national and international nongovernmental organizations, education ministries and United Nations agencies who assisted us in conducting the research for this report, and shared data and other information with us. These experts and representatives include: Van Daniel of Pairs Educateurs et Promoteurs sans Frontieres in Cameroon, Nicolas Effimbra of the Ministry of Education of Ivory Coast, Najlaa Elkhalifa, Desiré Essossinam Adjoke of Plan International Togo, Bernard Makachia of Education for Better Living, Sabrina Mahtani of Amnesty International, Trine Petersen of UNICEF Lesotho, Ndiaye Khadidiatou Sow of the Ministry of National Education of Senegal, and Boaz Waruku of the African Network Campaign on Education for All. We would also like to thank Dr. Chi-Chi Undie of Population Council for providing peer review, and Françoise Kpeglo Moudouthe, of Girls not Brides, for strategic advice.

 

 

[1] See for example, Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School”: Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/tanzania0217_web.pdf; “Zimbabwe: Scourge of Child Marriage: Set 18 as Minimum Age, Adopt National Action Plan,” 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/25/zimbabwe-scourge-child-marriage; “Ending Child Marriage in Africa: Opening the Door for Girls' Education, Health, and Freedom from Violence,” 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/09/ending-child-marriage-africa; No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/10/29/no-way-out/child-marriage-and-huma...; "I've Never Experienced Happiness:” Child Marriage in Malawi, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/03/06/ive-never-experienced-happiness/ch...; “This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him”: Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/southSudan0313_forinsert.... See also, https://www.hrw.org/topic/womens-rights/child-marriage, for more Human Rights Watch research on child marriage in other parts of the world; https://www.hrw.org/topic/childrens-rights/education, for more on education; and https://www.hrw.org/topic/health/sexual-and-reproductive-health on sexual and reproductive rights.

[2] According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), countries such as Central African Republic, Niger, Chad, Angola, and Mali top the list of countries with the highest adolescent birth rate (above 178). In the 2010–2015 period, over 45 percent of women 20–24 reported having given birth for the first time by age 18. UNICEF, “Current Status + Progress – The highest rates of early childbearing are found in sub-Saharan African countries,” updated January 2018,https://data.unicef.org/topic/maternal-health/adolescent-health/ (accessed May 7, 2018).

[3] UNICEF, “Current Status + Progress,” 2018, http://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-marriage/ (accessed May 7, 2018); Marcos Delprato (Global Education Monitoring Report), “Education can break the bonds of child marriage,” November 18, 2015, https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/education-can-break-the... (accessed April 29, 2018); Théophane Nikyema (The African Child Policy Forum), “Why is Girls’ Education Key to Ending Child Marriage? Day of the African Child 2014,” https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/increasing-access-girls-education-key-end... (accessed April 29, 2018); Girls not Brides, “Child marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa,” undated, https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/region/sub-saharan-africa/ (accessed April 29, 2018).

[4] See United Nations Population Fund, “Adolescent Pregnancy,” undated, https://www.unfpa.org/adolescent-pregnancy (accessed May 9, 2018); Yetunde F. Oke, “Poverty and Teenage Pregnancy: The Dynamics in Developing Countries,” Ontario International Development Agency, 2010, http://www.oidaijsd.com/Files/2-5-6.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018); Clifford Odimegwu and Sibusiso Mkwananzi, “Factors Associated with Teen Pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa: A Multi-Country Cross-Sectional Study,” African Journal of Reproductive Health (Special Edition), 2016, https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajrh/article/viewFile/147897/137403 (accessed May 9, 2018).

[5] See Ibrahim Yakubu and Waliu Jawula Salisu, “Determinants of Adolescent Pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa: a Systematic Review,” 2018, Reproductive Health 15, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5787272 (accessed May 14, 2018); UNICEF, “Child Marriage, Adolescent Pregnancy and Family Formation in West and Central Africa: Patterns, Trends and Drivers of Change,” 2015, https://www.unicef.org/wcaro/english/Child_Mariage_Adolescent_Pregnancy_... (accessed May 9, 2018); Population Council, “Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy: A Review of Country Experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa,” 2015, https://www.popcouncil.org/uploads/pdfs/2015STEPUP_EducSectorResp.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018).

[6] UNICEF, “Current Status + Progress.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] World Bank, “Duration of compulsory education (years),” https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.COM.DURS?end=2016&locations=ZG&s... (accessed April 29, 2018); Malala Fund, “12 Surprising Facts About Secondary School Around the World,” May 2015, https://blog.malala.org/12-surprising-facts-about-secondary-school-aroun... (accessed April 29, 2018); Girls not Brides, “Sub-Saharan Africa,” https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/region/sub-saharan-africa/ (accessed April 29, 2018); UNICEF and the International Center for Research on Women, “Child Marriage in the Middle East and North Africa,” 2017, https://www.unicef.org/mena/reports/child-marriage-middle-east-and-north-africa (accessed May 9, 2018), pp. 64- 67.

[9] Stigma persists even when adolescent girls become pregnant from sexual abuse by adults, including teachers, who exploit them by offering them money for school fees, or basic items like sanitary pads, telephone credit, or food. See Agnes Odhiambo (Human Rights Watch), “Tanzania Must Lift Cruel Ban on Teen Mothers Returning to School,” News Deeply, July 3, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/03/tanzania-must-lift-cruel-ban-teen-mo...; Human Rights Watch, “Globally Girls Struggle for Rights,” October 11, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/11/globally-girls-struggle-rights; “I Had a Dream to Finish School.”

[10] Rebecca Ratcliffe, “‘After getting pregnant, you are done’: no more school for Tanzania’s mums-to-be,” The Guardian, June 30, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jun/30/tanzania-pres... (accessed April 20, 2018); John Aglionby, “Tanzania’s enemies of the state: pregnant young women,” Financial Times, October 11, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/c7507730-712c-11e7-93ff-99f383b09ff9 (accessed April 20, 2018); The Patriotic Vanguard, “Sierra Leone: Fierce debate over pregnant schools girls,” December 7, 2015, http://www.thepatrioticvanguard.com/sierra-leone-fierce-debate-over-preg... (accessed April 20, 2018); Abibatu Kamara, “Sierra Leone News: ‘Pregnant girls will not be allowed in school’ – Education Minister,” Awoko, March 25, 2015, http://awoko.org/2015/03/25/sierra-leone-news-pregnant-girls-will-not-be-allowed-in-school-education-minister/ (accessed April 23, 2018); Cinnatus Dumbaya, “No Multiplication in Sierra Leone’s Classrooms, as Pregnant Girls Barred from School,” Ebola Deeply, March 17, 2015, http://archive.eboladeeply.org/articles/2015/03/7540/multiplication-sier... (accessed April 23, 2018); Doreen Umutesi, “Debate: Should pregnant girls be allowed to stay in school? (It’s school, not a maternity home),” The New Times, September 12, 2014, http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/180832 (accessed April 28, 2018).

[11] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “Early and unintended pregnancy and the education sector – Evidence review and recommendations,” http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002515/251509e.pdf; Mwegelo Kapinga (Pesa Check), “Will Banning School-going Mums Reduce Teen Pregnancy in Tanzania,” August 15, 2017, https://pesacheck.org/will-banning-schoolgoing-mums-reduce-teen-pregnanc... (accessed May 9, 2018).

[12] UNESCO, “Young People Today, Time to Act Now – Why adolescents and young people need comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services in Eastern and Southern Africa” 2013, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002234/223447e.pdf (accessed May 14, 2018), pp. 16- 17; United Nations Population Fund Open Data, “Sub-Saharan Africa – Adolescents and Young People Dashboard – Median Age at First Sexual intercourse (year),” undated, http://dashboard.unfpaopendata.org/ay_africa/ (accessed May 14, 2018).

[13] UNESCO, United Nations Population Fund et al, “International technical guidance on sexuality education – An evidence-informed approach,” 2018, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002607/260770e.pdf (accessed April 27, 2018), pp.12 – 13, 23 – 26; United Nations Population Fund, “Sub-Saharan Africa – Adolescents and Young People Dashboard,” http://dashboard.unfpaopendata.org/ay_africa/ (accessed April 27, 2018).

[14] In 2013, ministers of education and health from 20 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa adopted regional commitments to ensure quality comprehensive sexuality education, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, by the end of 2015. See “Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA),” December 7, 2013, https://hivhealthclearinghouse.unesco.org/sites/default/files/resources/ESACommitmentFINALAffirmedon7thDecember.pdf (accessed May 21, 2018); United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – A review of 23 Countries in East and Southern Africa,” September 2017, http://esaro.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/2017-08-Laws%20and%20... (accessed April 23, 2018), p. 19 ; United Nations Population Fund, “Review of Adolescent and Youth Policies, Strategies and Laws in Selected Countries in West Africa,” http://wcaro.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/UNFPA_WAfrica_Youth_E... (accessed April 28, 2018), pp. 19 – 23.

[15] Human Rights Watch research conducted in Senegal in October 2017; Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School.”

[16] Human Rights Watch research conducted in Senegal in October 2017; Human Rights Watch, “Uganda: ‘Abstinence-Only’ Programs Hijack AIDS Success Story,” March 20, 2005, https://www.hrw.org/news/2005/03/30/uganda-abstinence-only-programs-hijack-aids-success-story; Vivian Agaba, “Contraceptives are not for children, says Museveni,” New Vision, July 2017, p. 7, https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1457221/contraceptives-child... (accessed April 23, 2018); Republic of South Africa, Department of Basic Education, “Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2007, https://www.naptosa.org.za/doc-manager/40-professional/46-general/105-sg... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[17] Janet Burns, “Research Confirms that Abstinence-Only Education Hurts Kids,” Forbes, August 23, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2017/08/23/research-confirms-th... (accessed February 17, 2018); John Santelli and Mary A. Ott, “Abstinence-only education policies and programs: A position paper for the Society for Adolescent Medicine,” 38 Journal of Adolescent Health, 2006, https://www.adolescenthealth.org/SAHM_Main/media/Advocacy/Positions/Jan-... (accessed February 18, 2018), pp. 83- 87; Human Rights Watch, ““The Less They Know, the Better,” Abstinence-Only HIV/AIDS Programs in Uganda,” March 2005, https://www.hrw.org/report/2005/03/30/less-they-know-better/abstinence-only-hiv/aids-programs-uganda.

[18] Human Rights Watch interview with Dame Ndiaye, coordinator, Right Here, Right Now, Dakar, Senegal, August 12, 2017.

[19] United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – A review of 23 Countries in East and Southern Africa,” p. 8.

[20] United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights- A review of 23 countries in East and Southern Africa,”  pp. 10 – 11.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Committee on the Rights of the Child, “General comment no. 20 (2016) on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence,” CRC/C/GC/20, December 6, 2016, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy... (accessed April 23, 2018), paras. 39 and 40.

[23] United Nations Population Fund, “Harmonizing the Legal Environment for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – A review in 23 Countries in East and Southern Africa.” Guttmacher Institute, “Abortion Worldwide 2017: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access,” March 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-worldwide-2017 (accessed May 9, 2018); Human Rights Watch research conducted in Senegal in October 2017.

[24] Guttmacher Institute, “Factsheet – Abortion in Africa,” March 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/abortion-africa (accessed May 9, 2018).

[25] Global Education Monitoring Report and United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, “Gender review – Meeting our commitments to gender equality in education,” 2018, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002615/261593e.pdf (accessed May 5, 2018), pp. 11, 15, 18.

[26] Human Rights Watch, “Millions of Children Denied Free Secondary Education,” January 31, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/31/millions-children-denied-free-secondary-education.

[27] Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School;” “South Africa: Sexual Violence Rampant in Schools – Harassment and Rape Hampering Girls’ Education,” March 2001, https://www.hrw.org/legacy/english/docs/2001/03/27/safric324_txt.htm; Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, “Corporal punishment of children: summaries of prevalence and attitudinal research in the last 10 years – East and Southern Africa,” March 2016, http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/assets/pdfs/research-summaries/East... (accessed April 29, 2018); Elin Martínez (Human Rights Watch), “Tanzania is Not ‘Doing Well’ on Violence in Schools,” November 22, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/22/tanzania-not-doing-well-violence-schools.

[28] Human Rights Watch, “Africa: Make Girls’ Access to Education a Reality,” June 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/16/africa-make-girls-access-education-r...; Global Education Monitoring Report and United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, “Gender review – Meeting our commitments to gender equality in education;” Malala Fund, “Part 1 – The evidence of investing in girls’ education,” June 2017, https://blog.malala.org/part-1-21fc4dc2ca03 (accessed April 29, 2018).

[29] Human Rights Watch, “Submission from Human Rights Watch on Gender Equality to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation,” https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/hrw_submiss...; Global Education Monitoring Report, “One in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their period,” April 24, 2018, https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2018/04/24/one-in-ten-girls-in-sub... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[30] For example, some communities believe that girls will become pregnant at school, or that it does not make economic sense to educate girls who will eventually marry. Some families remove girls from school and marry them off at a young age to reduce the risks of teenage pregnancy and avoid the social stigma attached to relationships before marriage. Some families and school officials force married girls to drop out. See, Human Rights Watch, “Africa: Make Girls’ Access to Education a Reality”; Global Education Monitoring Report and United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, “Gender review – Meeting our commitments to gender equality in education”; Malala Fund, “Part 1 – The evidence of investing in girls’ education.”

[31] United Nations Population Fund, “State of the World’s Population 2017,” 2018, https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/sowp/downloads/UNFPA_PUB_2017_EN_SWOP.pdf, (accessed April 20, 2018), p. 50.

[32] The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by all African governments. United Nations Treaty Collection, “11. Convention on the Rights of the Child,” https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-11&ch... (accessed April 23, 2018); Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 28

[33] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “General Comment No. 13, The Right to Education (Art. 13), E/C.12/1999/10 (1999),” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Edu(1999).aspx (accessed August 10, 2017), paras. 11 - 12.

[34] At time of writing, member states that have not ratified the African Charter include Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Sao Tome e Principe, Somalia, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, South Sudan, and Tunisia. African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, “Reporting Status Under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC),” http://www.acerwc.org/ratification-data/(accessed April 28, 2018). African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), arts. 21(2), 11 (3) (e) and 11 (6).

[35] African Youth Charter (2006), entered into force August 8, 2009, art. 13 (1) and art. 13 (4) (b). African Union Youth Division, “Ratifications – African Youth Charter,” https://www.africa-youth.org/frameworks/african-youth-charter/ratificati... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[36] African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child,” Joint General Comment on Ending Child Marriage, 2017, http://www.achpr.org/files/news/2018/01/d321/joint_gc_acerwc_achpr_endin..., (accessed April 23, 2018), para. 31.

[37] The Maputo Protocol has been ratified by 36 member states. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights “Ratification Table: Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa,” http://www.achpr.org/instruments/women-protocol/ratification/ (accessed April 23, 2018).

[38] Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003), entered into force November 25, 2005, http://www.achpr.org/files/instruments/women-protocol/achpr_instr_proto_... (accessed April 23, 2018), art. 14; Joint General Comment on Ending Child Marriage, 2017, para. 37.

[39] Although the autonomous island of Zanzibar has a “re-entry” policy, separate to mainland Tanzania, it is not included in this analysis.

[40] See Benin, “Loi no. 2015-08 portant code de l’enfant en République du Benin,” https://srhr.org/abortion-policies/documents/countries/06-Benin-Law-on-t... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 180 ; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “Loi no. 15/013 du 1er août 2015 portant modalités d’application des droits de la femme et de la parité,” http://leganet.cd/Legislation/Droit%20Public/DH/Loi.15.013.01.08.html (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 10; in Lesotho, “Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, Act No. 7 of 2011,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/lesotho... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 11(4); in Mauritania, “Ordonnance no. 2005-015 portant protection pénale de l’enfant,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/Maurita... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 35 (2); in Nigeria, “An Act to Provide and Protect the Right of the Nigerian Child and Other Related Matters, 2003,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/Nigeria... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 15 (5); in South Sudan, “The Child Act, 2008,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/South%2... (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 26 (3).

[41] UNESCO, “Developing an Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy – Discussion document for a global consultation, November 2014,” 2014, http://www.ungei.org/resources/files/Developing_an_education_sector_resp... (accessed May 14, 2018), pp. 16 – 17; Florence Undiyaundeye, “The Effect of Teenage Pregnancy on the Girl-Child in Nigerian Society,” January 2015, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/291974990_THE_EFFECT_OF_TEENAGE... (accessed April 20, 2018).

[42] For example, in Cape Verde, “Decreto-Lei no. 47/2017,” where adolescent mothers have the right to take 60 days off as “maternity leave,” and in Gabon, “Arrête n. 2089/PM/MFPEPF du 19 novembre 2004,” which establishes day care facilities so that adolescent mothers can return to school. Rwanda is included in this category because its “2008 Girls’ Education Policy,” makes it “obligatory and compulsory for girls and boys who drop out to re-enter including girls who drop out due to pregnancy,” while its 2014 “National School Health Policy” “urges to compel schools to keep records and follow-up on pregnant girls to return to school.” Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Education, “Girls’ Education Policy,” April 2008, https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/94008/110190/F-1833244927/RWA-94008.pdf (accessed May 28, 2018), and “National School Health Policy,” 2014, http://www.mineduc.gov.rw/fileadmin/user_upload/health_policy.pdf (accessed May 28, 2018).

[43] Countries include Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Gambia, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

[44] For example, in Zimbabwe. Tatenda Gumbo, “Zimbabwe Education Ministry Clarifies Policy on Pregnant Students,” (Voice of America) September 15, 2010, https://www.voazimbabwe.com/a/ministry-of-education-maintains-policy-for... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[45] Population Council, UNESCO and UKaid, “Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy: A Review of Country Experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa,” 2015, https://www.popcouncil.org/uploads/pdfs/2015STEPUP_EducSectorResp.pdf (accessed April 26, 2018).

[46] UNESCO, “Developing an Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy – Discussion document for a global consultation, November 2014,” pp. 16 – 17.

[47] For example, in Cameroon, the government’s circular n° 10/A/562/MINEDUC of January 2018 mandates public and private schools to establish re-entry conditions based on age, past work and discipline. See, Les Aramandines, “Règlement intérieur – Les Fautes Majeures,” http://lesarmandins.org/index.php/fr/presentation/reglement-interieur (accessed May 14, 2018).

[48] Population Council, UNESCO and UKaid, “Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy: A Review of Country Experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa,” p. 7.

[49] Ibid., pp. 9 – 10.

[50] République du Senegal, Ministére de l’Education Nationale, “Circulaire n°004379/ME/SG/DEMSG/DAJLD,” October 2007 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[51] For example, in Cape Verde and Senegal. República de Cabo Verde, “Boletim Oficial da República de Cabo Verde – Decreto-Lei no. 47/2017 de 26 de outubro,” B.O. No. 62, October 26, 2017, https://kiosk.incv.cv/1.1.62.2405/ (accessed May 28, 2018). Forthcoming Human Rights Watch report on Senegal.

[52] For example, in Zambia. Forum for African Women Educationalists, “Keeping Girls in School – FAWE Zambia’s Campaign for an Enabling Readmission Policy for Adolescent Mothers,” undated, http://www.fawe.org/Files/fawe_best_practices_-_school_re-entry_for_adol... (accessed May 7, 2018).

[53] Republic of South Africa, Department of Basic Education, “Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2007, https://www.naptosa.org.za/doc-manager/40-professional/46-general/105-sg... (accessed May 8, 2018), pp. 6 – 7. Despite its existence, schools continue to expel pregnant girls in breach of South Africa’s constitutional laws. Lisa Draga et al, “Basic Education Rights Handbook – Chapter 8 – Pregnancy,” http://section27.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Chapter-8.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018). At time of writing, the government was consulting stakeholders on a “DBE Draft National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools),” http://us-cdn.creamermedia.co.za/assets/articles/attachments/73372_41456... (accessed May 14, 2018).

[54] For example, in Gabon. Journal Officiel de la République Gabonaise, “Arrête no. 2089/PM/MFPEPF du 19 novembre 2004, Portant création et fonctionnement des Haltes-garderies,” https://www.documents.clientearth.org/wp-content/uploads/library/2004-11... (accessed April 20, 2018).

[55] For example, in Namibia. Republic of Namibia, Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, “Education Sector Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy,” 2010, https://www.moe.gov.na/files/downloads/99b_Learner%20Pregnancy%20policy%20final%202010-10-18.pdf(accessed May 8, 2018), pp. 17 – 18. UNESCO, “Developing an Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy – Discussion document for a global consultation, November 2014” p. 17.

[56] Health and Education Advice and Resource Team, “Education for pregnant girls and young mothers,” May 27, 2015, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/57a08965ed915d622c0001c9/... (accessed May 8, 2018); UNESCO, “Early and unintended pregnancy and the education sector – Evidence review and recommendations,” http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002515/251509e.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018), p. 22.

[57] Population Council, UNESCO and UKaid, “Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy: A Review of Country Experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa,” pp. 12 – 13; UNESCO, “Developing an Education Sector Response to Early and Unintended Pregnancy – Discussion document for a global consultation, November 2014,” pp. 16 – 17.

[58] Benin, Mali and Senegal, for example, adopted re-entry policies between 2005 and 2007 that are inclusive of pregnant girls and young mothers, reversing a clear school ban on pregnant girls.

[59] Ministério da Educaçao, “Notícias – Decreto-lei no. 47/2017 establece medidas de apoio social e escolar que garantam accesso e permanência das mães no sistema de ensino,” October 31, 2017, https://radioeducativa.cv/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4522:ecreto-lei-n-47-2017-estabelece-medidas-de-apoio-social-e-escolar-que- garantam-o-acesso-e-permanencia-das-maes-no-sistema-de-ensino&catid=8:noticias&Itemid=108 (accessed April 25, 2018).

[60] Anthony Amoah, “When GES Plans to Keep Pregnant Girls in School,” Modern Ghana, June 11, 2017, https://www.modernghana.com/news/781441/when-ges-plans-to-keep-pregnant-... (accessed April 20, 2018); Jeff Andrew Lule, “Gov’t prioritises education for child mothers,” New Vision, March 29, 2018, https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1474448/gov-prioritises-educ... (accessed April 20, 2018); Carol Natukunda, “Pregnant school girls to get maternity leave,” New Vision, April 20, 2018, https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1476060/pregnant-school-girls-maternity-leave (accessed April 20, 2018).

[61] Hillary Margolis (Human Rights Watch), “Survivors of Rape in Conflict Should be in School,” December 5, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/05/survivors-rape-conflict-should-be-sc...; Human Rights Watch, ““They Said We Are Their Slaves,Sexual Violence by Armed Groups in the Central African Republic,” October 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/05/they-said-we-are-their-slaves/sexual-violence-armed-groups-central-african.

[62] République Démocratique du Congo, “Plan d’Action National de Mise en Oeuvre de la Politique Nationale Genre,” 2010, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/MONOGRAPH/95095/111833/F1922363659/CO... (accessed April 20, 2018); “Loi no. 15/013 du 1er aout 2015 portant modalités d’application des droits de la femme et de la parité,” http://leganet.cd/Legislation/Droit%20Public/DH/Loi.15.013.01.08.html (accessed May 14, 2018), art. 10; Republic of South Sudan, “The Child Act, 2008 - Act. No. 10 of 2008,” the Southern Sudan Gazette No. 1 of February 10, 2009, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/83470/92194/F822057232/SDN... (accessed May 9, 2018), art. 26 (3).

[63] Human Rights Watch reviewed various official documents, including: Ministère de l’Education Nationale et la Recherche Scientifique, “Plan National d’Action de l’Education pour Tous, 2003 – 2015,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/policy%20per%20country/CAR/car_educ... (accessed May 14, 2018); “Plan de Transition 2014 – 2017,” September 5, 2014, https://www.globalpartnership.org/fr/content/republique-centrafricaine-s... (accessed May 14, 2018); “Loi No. 06.032 du 27 Decembre 2006, Portant Protection de la Femme Contre la Violence en République Centrafricaine,” http://www.africanchildforum.org/clr/Legislation%20Per%20Country/CAR/car... (accessed May 14, 2018).

[64] See for example, South Sudan Education Cluster, “Response Strategy for 2018,” 2018, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.inf... (accessed April 28, 2018); United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Education - Considérations liées au genre dans la Réponse humanitaire en RCA,” 2016, https://www.unocha.org/sites/dms/CAR/Annexe%205c.%20FH%20RCA%202016%20SA... (accessed April 27, 2018); United Nations, “2018 – Plan de Réponse Humanitaire, Janvier – Décembre 2018 – République Centrafricaine,” December 2017, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.inf... (accessed April 27, 2018).

[65] BBC, “John Magufuli’s pregnant schoolgirl ban angers Tanzanian women,” June 23, 2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-40379113 (accessed April 24, 2018); José Naranjo, “Un test de embarazo para poder matricularte en el colegio,” El País, March 6, 2017, https://elpais.com/internacional/2017/03/05/actualidad/1488726266_750639... (accessed April 24, 2018); Amnesty International, “Sierra Leone: Continued pregnancy ban in schools and failure to protect rights is threatening teenage girls’ futures,” November 8, 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/sierra-leone-continued-pr... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[66] For example, Reuters, “Tanzanian leader reaffirms ban on pregnant girls attending state schools,” June 23, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-tanzania-education-idUKKBN19E19F (accessed April 23, 2018).

[67] Kizito Makoye, Nita Bhalla, “Tanzania slammed for ‘misguided’ arrest of pregnant schoolgirls,” Reuters, January 10, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-schoolgirls-arrests/tanzania... (accessed April 21, 2018).

[68] Human Rights Watch, “No Way Out” Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania,” October 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/10/29/no-way-out/child-marriage-and-huma...; Alexandra Kotowski (Human Rights Watch), “Dispatches: Girls Speak Out against Child Marriage,” June 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/23/dispatches-girls-speak-out-against-c...; Human Rights Watch, “Ending Child Marriage in Africa – Opening the Door for Girls’ Education, Health, and Freedom from Violence,” December 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/09/ending-child-marriage-africa.

[69] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, “Concluding observations on the sixth and seventh periodic reports of Togo,” CEDAW/C/TGO/CO/6-7, November 2012, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy... (accessed April 21, 2018), paras. 30, 31 (g); Human Rights Council, “Rapport du Groupe de travail sur l’Examen périodique universel – Togo,” A/HRC/34/4, December 30, 2016, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/444/23/PDF/G1644423.pd... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[70] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “High Commissioner’s global update of human rights concerns,” March 7, 2018, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22772 (accessed May 21, 2018); African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, “ACERWC-ACHPR Joint Appeal to Tanzania,” August 8, 2017, http://www.acerwc.org/acerwc-achpr-joint-appeal-to-tanzania/ (accessed May 21, 2018).

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Leonard D. Akwilapo, deputy permanent secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, November 10, 2016.

[72] Government of the Republic of Tanzania, “Education (Expulsion and Exclusion of Pupils from Schools) Regulations,” G.N. No. 295 0f 2002, art. 4(b) – (c) (copy on file with Human Rights Watch).

[73] Human Rights Watch, “I Had a Dream to Finish School,” pp. 97 – 99.

[74] Countries include Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, Niger, Republic of Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, Somalia, and Uganda. Although practice may vary in this group of countries, Human Rights Watch did not find evidence of explicit laws or policies that guarantee pregnant girls’ or adolescent mothers’ right to go back to school. Human Rights Watch contacted the Ministry of Education, and/or the country’s delegation to UNESCO, of Angola and Djibouti, to seek official responses on policies and practices applicable in these countries.

[75] Amnesty International, “Burkina Faso: Coerced and Denied: Forced Marriages and Barriers to Contraception in Burkina Faso,” April 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr60/3851/2016/en/ (accessed April 28, 2018); Moussa Diallo, “Groupe Scolaire Sainte Collette de Ouagadougou: Des éleves “exclues” pour cause de grossesse,” LeFaso, November 18, 2011, http://lefaso.net/spip.php?article44928 (accessed April 28, 2018); Le Quotidien Numérique, “Réponse du Ministre de l’Education nationale et de l’Alphabétisation a une question orale de l’Asemblée nationale sur la question des grossesses non désirées en milieu scolaire,” 2017, http://www.sciences-campus.info/2017/04/13/reponse-du-ministre-de-leduca... (accessed May 8, 2018).

[76] Onélio Santiago, “Ter Bebé Poder Ser Um Problema Para Quem Estuda,” Nova Gazeta, undated, http://novagazeta.co.ao/?p=8748 (accessed May 14, 2018). The Ministry of Education’s executive decree for school-based social action omits instructions on student pregnancy and school management responsibilities. República de Angola, Ministério da Educaçao, “Decreto executivo no. 131/06 de 3 de Novembro,” 2009, http://www.med.gov.ao/verlegislacao.aspx?id=361 (accessed June 6, 2018).  

[77] Countries include Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco/Western Sahara, Sudan, and Tunisia.

[78] For example, in Morocco, non-marital sex is a crime in the Penal Code. In 2014, the Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the government to repeal this provision of the Penal Code due to its impact on adolescent mothers. Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Morocco,” CRC/C/MAR/CO/3-4, October 14, 2014, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy... (accessed May 8, 2018). In Sudan, an unmarried woman who admits to sexual relations or becomes pregnant can be tried for a "huduud" crime for which the penalty is 80 lashes. Liv Tonnessen and Samia al-Nagar, “Women and Girls Caught between Rape and Adultery in Sudan: Criminal Law Reform, 2005 – 2015,” https://www.cmi.no/publications/5661-women-and-girls-caught-between-rape... (accessed April 20, 2018).

[79] University of Bergen et al, “Sudan Report - Girls, Child Marriage, and Education in Red Sea State, Sudan: Perspectives on Girls’ Freedom to Choose,” September 2017, https://www.cmi.no/publications/file/6326-girls-child-marriage.pdf (accessed April 21, 2018); Ghalia Kadiri, “Etre mére célibataire au Maroc, un long calvaire,” Le Monde, March 16, 2018, http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2018/03/16/etre-mere-celibataire-a... (accessed April 20, 2018); Abdelkadir Remal, “Algérie: le drame des meres célibataires,” L’Expression, May 14, 2006, https://abdelkadirremal.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/algerie-le-drame-des-me... (accessed April 19, 2018); Roudi-Fahimi, F. and El Feki, S., “Facts of life: Youth sexuality and reproductive health in the Middle East and North Africa,” Population Reference Bureau, http://www.prb.org/pdf11/facts-of-life-youth-in-middle-east.pdf (accessed May 8, 2018).

[80] UNESCO, “Early and unintended pregnancy and the education sector – Evidence review and recommendations,” http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0025/002515/251509e.pdf.

[81] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, “General recommendation no. 36 (2017) on the rights of girls and women to education,” November 27 ,2017, CEDAW/C/GC/36, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?sy..., (accessed January 26, 2018), para. 68.

[82] UNESCO, United Nations Population Fund, et al, “International technical guidance on sexuality education - An evidence-informed approach,” 2018, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0026/002607/260770e.pdf (accessed April 6, 2018), pp. 34, 121.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“Evelina,” 17, with her 3-year-old daughter “Hope,” in Migori county, western Kenya. Evelina is in Form 2, the second year of lower secondary school. After her baby was born, a friend encouraged her to go back to school. Although Evelina cannot afford to pay school fees, the school’s head teacher allows her to stay in school.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

(Nairobi) - Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today, ahead of the Day of the African Child on June 16, 2018.

The 44-page report, “Leave No Girl Behind in Africa: Discrimination in Education Against Pregnant Students and Adolescent Mothers,” draws on extensive Human Rights Watch research on the rights of girls in Africa. Human Rights Watch examined national laws, policies, and practices that block or support pregnant girls’ and adolescent mothers’ right to primary and secondary education in all African Union (AU) member countries. Africa has one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the world. African governments should urgently adopt laws and policies to ensure that schools allow and support pregnant girls to stay in school and to return to school after having a child.

“In many African countries, pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are forced out of school and denied their right to education,” said Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While some progress has been made, the African Union needs to work closely with all its member countries to ensure that no girl is denied her right to an education because she becomes pregnant.”

Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa.

In recent years, many African governments have made strong commitments to ensure that pregnant girls and mothers can attend school. However, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania still ban pregnant girls or adolescent mothers from government schools.

On June 22, 2017, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli stated, “As long as I’m president, no pregnant students will be allowed to return to school.” Tanzanian police and officials have also arrested pregnant girls and harassed their families to force them to reveal who impregnated them. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called Tanzania’s policy “shocking,” while the African Commission special rapporteur on the rights of women in Africa and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child have expressed concern, and said the Tanzanian government should fulfill its human rights obligations.

In May 2018, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice accepted a case brought against the government of Sierra Leone for its refusal to allow pregnant girls to attend public schools.

Girls who become pregnant in many African countries are barred from education. Many countries also do not have policies for re-entry after giving birth. Some countries with high rates of adolescent pregnancy, such as Angola and Burkina Faso, lack policies to manage adolescent pregnancy in schools.

In some countries, school officials resort to harmful means to identify pregnant girls, including forced pregnancy tests, and stigmatize and publicly shame or expel them. Such tests without consent infringe on their right to privacy and dignity. Human Rights Watch has found that some girls so fear such humiliation that they will preemptively drop out of school when they find out they are pregnant. Others procure unsafe abortions, putting their health and lives at risk.

Countries in northern Africa generally lack policies related to the treatment of pregnant girls in schools. Some impose heavy penalties and punishments on girls and women who are reported to have had sexual relationships outside of wedlock. Girls and young women with children, who are often perceived as bringing dishonor to their communities, are ridiculed, isolated, or even imprisoned, and are not expected to stay in school.

Progress is evident in 26 African countries that have laws or policies that protect adolescent girls’ education during pregnancy and motherhood, Human Rights Watch said. Four – including Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire – guarantee girls the right to continue school during pregnancy and after giving birth. Another 22 – including Kenya and Malawi – have conditional “re-entry” policies. Benin, Cape Verde, and Senegal have revoked punitive policies, and adopted policies that support girls’ return to school. However, laws and policies that guarantee “re-entry” are often poorly carried out and not well-monitored to ensure schools comply with them.

Even in countries with good policies, girls face barriers to returning to school. Some schools have burdensome conditions for re-entry, discouraging girls from returning. To overcome these barriers, some countries – such as Gabon and Zambia – have adopted measures to support young mothers returning to school, including ensuring that primary and secondary education are free, accommodating time for breast feeding, allowing young mothers to choose morning or evening school shifts, and establishing nurseries and day care centers close to schools.

In 2018, the AU called on member countries to “Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development.” The AU should ensure that pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are included in the agenda to leave no child behind, Human Rights Watch said.

Governments should urgently adopt laws and policies that encourage girls to stay in school, to return to school after having a child, and to succeed academically. All should ensure that they do not impose stringent conditions on adolescent mothers who wish to continue with education.

All countries should adopt comprehensive approaches to support young mothers to continue with education, while tackling the root causes of early and unplanned teenage pregnancies, Human Rights Watch said. They should provide adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive health services, include comprehensive sexuality education at school and in the community, and ensure access to a range of contraceptive methods, and safe and legal abortion.

“Punishing pregnant girls by throwing them out of school will not end teen pregnancies,” said Martínez. “Many African countries will fail in their promise to leave no child behind if they exclude girls who are pregnant or married, but the whole continent will benefit when pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are allowed back in schools.”

Selected quotes

“I didn’t want to have a baby … I’ve told all my friends that they do not try to have a baby… it causes many problems… But if you do have a baby, then you should go back to school after the birth. There’s no need to feel ashamed. Mistakes are human.” – Fatoumata, 17, from southern Senegal, who became pregnant when she was 16.

“At the school there was a nurse who would come from the hospital to check [test] for pregnancy. They checked me and found out I was pregnant. They touch your stomach. They did it to all the girls every month. Then they wrote a letter to my parents to tell them I was pregnant and they had to go to the school. There they gave them a letter that I was expelled from school. I was three months pregnant.” – Imani, 22, from Mwanza, Tanzania, who became pregnant when she was 16.

“I became pregnant when in class eight in 2014. I needed money to register for my final [primary school leaving] exam. My father had married another wife and left us. My mum didn’t have any money. I met a man who was working as a part-time teacher and told him my problems. He said he will give me the money. I started a sexual relationship with him, and that is how I got pregnant. My community mocked me. Other students rejected me. They would mock me and laugh at me. I felt ashamed that I was a mother in the midst of girls. I almost left school, but the principal encouraged me and I took heart. My mother struggles to educate me, but I am now in form three.” Angela, 20, from Migori County in western Kenya, who became pregnant when she was 16.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

“Evelina” (not her real name), 17, looks immaculate in her pressed white-and-blue school uniform and her neatly divided cornrows, as she futilely tries to escape the sweltering heat of western Kenya beneath a shady tree. Her black leather shoes are clearly worn, but her shiny shoelaces, coated with layers of shoe polish, gleam against her white socks in the hot afternoon sun. She twists her ankle to confirm that the soles are still intact and flicks an invisible speck of dust off her skirt.

She takes this opportunity to be a student very seriously because after giving birth to her daughter, ”Hope,” she never imagined she could return to school.

In 2014, Evelina was preparing for her final examination in primary school. Having lost her mother some years back, she lived in a one-room house with her grandmother and four sisters. She was determined to excel in school so she could get a good job as a nurse or teacher and care for her family.

She had a boyfriend and sometimes had sex with him. She was not sure  how to avoid getting pregnant, and when she missed her period for a few months, she suspected that she could be expecting. A local clinic confirmed this. “I was sad, ashamed,” she says softly. “I knew our circumstances back home, so I did not want to burden anyone with more problems.” 

After her baby was born in 2015, Evelina, at the young age of 13, had to drop out of school.

In many African countries, pregnant students and adolescent mothers often drop out of school. Some are banned by school officials, other girls stay home to care for their babies, and many drop out when they are forced to marry. In Kenya, where Evelina lives, the government has put in place a school re-entry policy stating that schools should allow young mothers to attend and should ensure they and their parents get guidance and counselling. Head teachers can work out innovative ways  to support these girls, for example by giving time off to breast feed and allowing extra classes missed for a student tending to her child.

Human Rights Watch found that in some African countries, like Tanzania, pregnant girls are often stigmatized, shamed, and forced to drop out of school. While ever-more countries have adopted policies to ensure that girls stay in school while pregnant or to help them return to school after their child’s birth,  many do not. To celebrate the Day of the African Child, we call for all African countries to adopt such policies and for all children to be included.

Evelina’s grandmother was disappointed by Evelina’s pregnancy, but continued caring for her and her sisters. When Evelina felt the first pangs of labor one evening, it was her grandmother who took her to the hospital. They lived in a village far from the nearest main town, Kehancha, and could only get there by a local motorcycle taxi called a boda boda. It was a long bumpy ride on the rocky winding paths. Thankfully, she delivered Hope, a healthy baby girl, without complications.

“Evelina,” 17, from Migori county, western Kenya, dropped out of the first year of lower secondary school when she got pregnant. She received no information or advice about policies that allowed her to continue going to school while she was pregnant. She wants to continue studying so she can find a job and care for her child.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

Still, she wondered if she would have any chance to go back to school. As there was no one to care for her child, she decided to stay home. This is a reality that governments often forget when they think about how to support adolescent mothers in going back to school.

Unfortunately, her grandmother could no longer afford to care for her, the newborn, and her sisters, so they all moved in with their father and stepmother. It didn’t go well.

“He drank a lot of alcohol and was always quarrelling,” Evelina says. But as fate would have it, Evelina met an old friend of hers who lived nearby. She asked Evelina why she was not in school, and Evelina explained her situation. Her friend had just completed secondary school at an all-girls school, close to where they lived, and she asked Evelina to try going there. The principal there would welcome her, her friend said, even as an adolescent mother. Unlike many schools, this one allowed all girls to finish their education, whether they were pregnant or had children.

Front cover of Zambia’s “Guidelines for the Re-Entry Policy,” adopted in 2007.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

But Evelina had no way to raise the school fees of $120 a year, even though it was very little compared with other schools. Also, her father was drinking more than ever and she still had no one to care for her child. There was no way, Evelina thought.

Then things went from bad to worse. Her father soon kicked out his wife. One night, he tried to burn the house down to make Evelina, her daughter and her sisters leave. The neighbors rescued them, and the girls stayed with their neighbors for some time.

Evelina turned to an already-married older sister, who helped them rent a house for $5 a month. Another sister braided hair, and Evelina did odd jobs like washing clothes or dishes in the neighborhood to earn money to live. They survived this way for a while.

Evelina kept in touch with her friend, who kept encouraging her to go back to school. “I had saved up about $30 and my friend gave me these very shoes, they are her old school shoes,” Evelina said, tears flowing freely as she recalled the moment. The shoes would have been the most expensive part of her uniform, and Evelina feared the ridicule heaped on children who went to school barefoot. “She said now I had no reason to stay home. This is why I decided to come to school.” She enrolled at the same girls’ school and began her secondary school education.

She decided not to reveal the extent of her financial difficulties to the school administration. As time passed, she was sent home because of unpaid school fees. She would stay home for a few days then return and make an excuse about delayed payment. She kept this up for a while. “All I wanted was to study, they already knew I had a child. I did not want anyone’s sympathy, I just wanted a chance. But the truth is that nobody was coming to pay my fees, and I had to tell them.”

The school principal let her stay in school and began searching for well-wishers to pay her debts. Although the school has not found someone to pay for her fees, Evelina still studies with no interruption from the school.

When she comes to school, she leaves her daughter, Hope, with a neighbor, whom she sometimes has to pay. Three of her sisters come to school with her too. The neighbor cares for the little girl all day, until Evelina returns at 4:30 p.m. “I do not know if my child eats anything during the day, but I cannot think about that,” she says. “It is too painful. I never ask, I am just glad that someone is caring for her as I study.” 

Evelina now has two more years of high school. She often thinks of how life will be for her daughter one day when she has a good job. For now, she is always happy to see and play with her daughter before doing her evening chores. When it is time to study, Hope clings to Evelina while she does her homework under a dim lamp in the night.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In many African countries, pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are forced out of school and denied their right to education. While some progress has been made, the African Union needs to work closely with all its member countries to ensure that no girl is denied her right to an education because she becomes pregnant.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

June 14, 2018

Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Аcademician Bogomolets St., 10
Kyiv, 01601, Ukraine

Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko
13/15 Riznytska St.
Kyiv, 01011, Ukraine

Dear Minister Avakov and Mr. Lutsenko,

We are writing on behalf of Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House to ask that Ukrainian authorities urgently take steps to strongly condemn and effectively address attacks and intimidation by radical groups that are promoting hatred and discrimination. While Ukrainian authorities have responded in a few instances to such attacks, the authorities have so far failed in recent months to respond to most incidents, which has created an atmosphere of near total impunity that cannot but embolden these groups to commit more attacks. It is no surprise that the number of violent attacks and threats by such groups is growing, as the inadequate response from the authorities sends a message that such acts are tolerated. We urge you to take effective action to prevent and stop acts that promote hatred and discrimination and hold those responsible to account.

Hiding under a veneer of patriotism and what they describe as “traditional values”, members of these groups have been vocal about their contempt for and intent to harm women’s rights activists, ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people, and others who hold views that differ from their own. These acts are restricting the peaceful exercise of their human rights and is further shrinking the space for civil society for groups that they believe do not have a right to public representation or participation in civic life.

Violent attacks by groups that promote hatred and discrimination

In recent months, our four organizations have noted a significant increase in physical attacks, threats, and intimidation against LGBTI activists, women’s rights activists, and other human rights defenders and journalists. In most cases, those responsible for the attacks have enjoyed impunity for their actions and have not been prosecuted. The National Police of Ukraine has particularly not responded consistently with adequate measures to the relevant threats and attacks. In at least two incidents, described below, national police officers, who were present when assailants threatened or attacked activists, failed to intervene and showed no intention to deal with such crimes.

Since the beginning of 2018, members of radical groups such as C14, Right Sector, Traditsii i Poryadok, Karpatska Sich and others have carried out at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation in Kyiv, Vinnitsa, Uzhgorod, Lviv, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk and other Ukrainian cities. The law enforcement authorities have rarely launched investigations into the threats and attacks committed by these groups. In the cases where investigations were launched, there is no indication that effective investigative measures were undertaken, and perpetrators were identified, despite attackers publicly claiming, in some cases, responsibility for the attacks on social media.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, members of radical groups attacked the participants of the Women’s March in Kyiv, physically assaulting them and using pepper spray. The police officers present at the scene merely observed the attacks and took no steps to stop them or detain them. Police filed administrative offense charges against one of the marchers who was attacked, but to the best of our knowledge filed no charges against the assailants. Women’s rights activists were also violently attacked in Lviv and Uzhgorod during their respective peaceful rallies on the same day.

On April 20, about five members of C14, a radical group that promotes hatred and discrimination, acting in their capacity as municipal patrols of the Holoseevsky City District, attacked a Roma settlement in Kyiv. A widely circulated video shows how the masked attackers chased women and small children with rocks and pepper spray after burning down their tents. Two criminal investigations have been launched, but we are not aware of any results.

On May 10, about 30 members of other groups that use violence and advocate hatred disrupted an event organized in Kyiv by Amnesty International, at which it was planned to discuss human rights violations against LGBTI people in Russia and Ukraine. The attackers blocked the entrance to the venue and shouted death threats at the organizers and participants. Police officers from the Pechersky District Unit present at the scene refused to interfere and made homophobic comments against Amnesty International’s staff. It was only after the organizers contacted the police emergency hotline and following the arrival of members of Kyiv City Patrol Police at the scene, that participants were evacuated, but the event had to be cancelled that day. Amnesty International has since filed complaints with the police regarding the police officers’ failure to protect the event’s participants and organizers from intimidation and discrimination. At time of writing, we have no information about whether an investigation has been launched yet.

On May 19, about 50 members of other groups, including some whom witnesses identified as involved in the violence on March 8 and May 10 in Kyiv, disrupted the Festival of Equality in Chernivtsi. Despite numerous prior meetings and reassurances from the local police, they did not effectively protect the event and allowed clearly identifiable people from these groups into the indoor event venue, putting participants’ safety and well-being at risk. The police then led the event’s organizers and participants outside on the pretext that there was a bomb threat, where assailants attacked them by throwing heavy objects, including hammers, at them. At time of writing, we have no information about whether an investigation into this incident has been launched.

We are deeply concerned by the inaction of the Ukrainian authorities in responding to the attacks and intimidation described above. The near-total impunity enjoyed by members of groups that promote hatred and discrimination through violent means creates the impression that these attacks are tolerated by the Ukrainian authorities.

“Policing” activities by groups promoting hatred and discrimination

We are also concerned about media reports which indicate that some municipal administrations have recruited individuals from groups that promote hatred and discrimination to conduct “policing activities”, such as patrolling the streets and performing “policing” functions during peaceful demonstrations or pickets. While citizen assistance of law enforcement authorities may be compatible with Ukrainian and international human rights law, such volunteers have no greater power or exemptions than citizens of the general population. They do not have the authority to use force in any circumstance and they may not exercise the powers of restraint, detention, or confiscation, including for example of flags or banners used at a rally.

If any official status is to be granted to volunteer officers and they are to be allowed to use any special powers ordinarily reserved for trained law enforcement, such as the power to use force or detain individuals, these volunteers must be bound by the same standards and mechanisms as regular law enforcement officials. As such they should be fully trained in the law and standards applicable and must be clearly identifiable to third parties so that if they abuse their power they can be held accountable.

We call on the Ministry of Interior, the National Police of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, and Ukraine’s political leaders to meet their obligations to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and the right to safety and security to all people in Ukraine. The perpetrators of these violent attacks should be held to account through independent and impartial investigations. The Ukrainian police must be clearly instructed on how to effectively prevent or stop members of groups that promote hatred and discrimination from using violence and intimidation against ethnic groups, LGBTI people, human rights defenders, and other groups and individuals targeted.

We urge you to swiftly respond to these recent instances of violence and intimidation with unambiguous public condemnation, and conducting prompt, thorough, impartial, and independent investigations to hold those responsible to account. This would be an important first step to preventing these acts from happening again in the future.

We also call on the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to take effective steps to prevent the unlawful use of force or acts of intimidation by members of groups that promote hatred and discrimination and investigate any complaints about their actions, in order to bring anyone found responsible to justice. We also urge Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to take immediate action to address and prevent discrimination and intolerance within its ranks by taking appropriate action towards officers who use discriminatory or derogatory language towards people they are supposed to protect.

Ukrainian leaders and law enforcement officials should develop an effective set of measures that goes beyond response to crimes and includes regular monitoring and engagement to identify and address problems before they deteriorate into further human rights violations.

Sincerely,

Hugh Williamson
Director, Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

Marie Struthers
Director, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office
Amnesty International

Andrew Anderson
Director
Front Line Defenders

Marc Behrendt
Director, Europe and Eurasia Programs
Freedom House

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activists and supporters of the Azov civil corp, Svoboda (Freedom), Ukrainian nationalist parties and the far-right radical group Right Sector take part in a rally to mark Defender of Ukraine Day, in Kiev, Ukraine October 14, 2017.

© REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

(Kyiv) – Ukraine's authorities have not responded adequately to the growing number of violent attacks and threats promoting hate and discrimination in Ukraine by members of violent radical groups, Human Rights Watch said today. In a joint letter to Ukrainian authorities Human Rights Watch and three other international human rights groups said that the authorities should immediately condemn the attacks and carry out effective investigations to hold the assailants accountable.

The letter from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, and Freedom House addressed the Ukrainian Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office and described a series of hate-motivated violent incidents and harassment in recent months by radical groups against Roma, LGBT people, feminists, and rights activists. The authorities should take steps to prevent and stop hate-motivated violence and harassment, Human Rights Watch said.

“Brutal attacks on Roma people, LGBT people, and rights activists have been on the rise in recent months in Ukraine," said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government has taken little action in response, which cannot but embolden and encourage the attackers.”

Ukraine's authorities have not responded adequately to the growing number of violent attacks and threats promoting hate and discrimination in Ukraine by members of violent radical groups. 

Since the beginning of 2018, members of radical groups such as C14, Right Sector, Traditsii i Poryadok (Traditions and Order), Karpatska Sich and others have carried out at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation in Kyiv, Vinnitsa, Uzhgorod, Lviv, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, and other Ukrainian cities. Law enforcement authorities have rarely opened investigations. In the cases in which they did, there is no indication that authorities took effective investigative measures to identify the attackers, even in cases in which the assailants publicly claimed responsibility on social media.

Media reports that some municipal administrations have recruited people from groups that promote hatred and discrimination to conduct “policing activities” during peaceful protests are also a source of concern, the groups said.

While citizen assistance of law enforcement authorities may be compatible with Ukrainian and international human rights law, such volunteers have no greater power or exemptions than ordinary Ukrainian citizens. They do not have the authority to use force in any circumstance and they may not restrain or detain people or confiscate materials, including, for example, flags or banners used at a rally.

Members of radical groups have also routinely tried, and often succeeded, at disrupting public events held by independent groups and threatened the safety of organizers and participants. The most recent examples include the disruption of a public lecture organized by the Ukraine office of Amnesty International in May, and threats in June against Freedom House for organizing a discussion about violence by radical groups that promote hatred and discrimination in Kyiv. The discussion took place without incident.

“Members of radical groups that attack and intimidate people to promote hate and discrimination are breaking Ukraine's law and should be held accountable,” Cooper said. “Ukrainian law enforcement authorities should protect Ukrainians' right to peaceful assembly without fear of obstruction and attacks.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 South Korean women march through the streets of Seoul.

© 2018 Courage to be Uncomfortable
On June 9, about 22,000 South Korean women marched through the streets of Seoul. The protest – reportedly the largest by women in South Korean history – focused on the proliferation of so-called “spy cams,” tiny cameras used to invade women’s privacy, filming them in toilets and up skirts, with images often posted online. Activists say the government is not taking the issue seriously – except in the rare case where a man is the victim.

Spy cam use is one of many rights violations women face in South Korea. The World Economic Forum recently ranked the country an abysmal 116 out of 144 countries in gender equality. In a survey of 2,000 South Korean men by the Korean Institute of Criminology, nearly 80 percent said they had physically or psychologically abused a girlfriend. A 2015 survey of 500 people by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family found more than 78 percent of sexual harassment victims in the workplace did not seek recourse but “put up with it,” often believing they would not get help if they complained.

Abortion is legal only in cases of rape or incest, risks to the mother’s health, or if the parents cannot marry legally or have specific hereditary disorders or communicable diseases. Even so, married women need their spouses’ permission for an abortion, and illegal abortion is punishable by up to one year in prison or fines up to 2 million won (US$1,820). Healthcare workers providing abortions face up to two years in prison.

The recent protest was the latest of a growing number of demands for change. In April 2018, more than 200,000 people signed a petition demanding a ban in sales of hidden cameras and stronger punishments for hidden camera crimes. In October 2017, more than 235,000 people signed a petition demanding legalization of abortion. A lawsuit on this issue is moving forward in the courts. The #MeToo movement took hold last year, with women demanding government action on sexual harassment.

President Moon Jae-in promised a cabinet with at least 30 percent women – and kept that promise. He pledged to strengthen the law on workplace sexual harassment, but has yet to do so. On abortion, the government kicked the issue down the road, saying they will study the issue and follow the ruling of an ongoing constitutional court case.

Saturday’s protest was a clear message. South Korean women see inequality all around them, they have had enough, and are demanding action by the government. Let’s hope their government heard the message.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York, June 13, 2018) – The World Bank, along with the Afghan government and its donors, should use its new education program to reverse the declining number of girls in school in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday in a letter to bank management. The anticipated US$300 million donor-funded World Bank project, Education Quality Reform in Afghanistan (EQRA), is to be submitted for approval to the World Bank’s executive board in the coming weeks.

A June 2018 UNICEF report found that up to 3.7 million children in Afghanistan – nearly half the children in the country – are out of school, and 60 percent of those are girls. In six of the country’s 34 provinces – Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Uruzgan, Wardak and Zabul – 15 percent or less of girls are in school. For the first time since 2002, UNICEF found, the number of Afghan children studying is falling.

“There’s an education crisis in Afghanistan right now – with girls most affected – and the world is looking away,” said Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s intolerable that nearly 17 years after the Taliban government’s fall, the number of girls going to school in Afghanistan is falling.”

The UNICEF findings are consistent with an October 2017 Human Rights Watch report that found that while deteriorating security is a significant barrier to girls’ education, girls were at increasing risk of missing school due to other factors. These include decreases and changes in donor support, and discrimination against girls within the Afghan government’s school system.

In addition to reducing funding, donors in many cases are shifting their bilateral aid from supporting nongovernmental organization-run schools focused on serving girls, to pooled funding through the World Bank program that directly funds the Afghan government’s education system. While direct government aid can improve sustainability, this particular shift is likely to harm girls’ ability to attend school because the government has made education inaccessible to many girls, Human Rights Watch said.

The Afghan government has 5,260 boys’ schools but only 2,531 girls’ schools – more than two to one. Many families want their daughters to study but will only accept them being taught by a female teacher – and in half of Afghanistan’s provinces, 20 percent or fewer teachers are female. Neither boys nor girls should have to study at a school without a toilet, but it is much harder for girls, especially as they reach puberty and begin menstruation – and 60 percent of Afghan government schools have no toilets.

EQRA will become the third World Bank project to support education in Afghanistan since 2002. It will receive funding from the World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). As of April 2018, donors to the ARTF, by pledge size, were: the European Union/European Community, the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Canada, Australia, Italy, Finland, South Korea, Switzerland, Japan, and Poland.

To move forward, the EQRA project will require approval by the World Bank’s board, which consists of donor countries to the bank’s work. That gives board members the opportunity to ensure that the education project and its respective donor countries give priority to addressing the disproportionate barriers to girls’ education.

“Girls’ education in Afghanistan is at urgent risk unless donors use their funds to ensure that the Afghan government takes this problem seriously,” Barr said. “The World Bank’s US$300 million education project is their best chance to turn this crisis around.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Re: Education Quality Reform in Afghanistan (EQRA) project

Dear Vice Presidents Dixon and Sennhauser,

I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch to update you on our research and to raise urgent issues regarding the World Bank’s funding for girls’ education in Afghanistan. We are specifically interested in the Education Quality Reform in Afghanistan (EQRA), which we expect will be reviewed by the World Bank board this summer.

EQRA will be the third World Bank education project in Afghanistan since 2001, following EQUIP 1 and EQUIP 2. With an anticipated US$300 million budget, it will play a major role in setting the direction of international support for education in Afghanistan for years to come.

Human Rights Watch’s October 2017 report on girls’ access to education in Afghanistan,[1] attached, found that in many parts of Afghanistan the number of girls going to school is falling.[2] Based on 249 interviews, most with out-of-school girls, in Kabul, Kandahar, Balkh, and Nangarhar provinces, we found that while deteriorating security is a barrier to girls’ education, other important factors are also driving this decline. 

Human Rights Watch’s research indicates that the Afghan government’s education system discriminates against or fails to provide access to education for girls in the following ways:

  1. There are fewer government schools for girls. The government has 5,260 boys-only general education schools, and 2,531 girls-only general education girls’ schools.[3]
  2. There is a dire shortage of female teachers – 20 percent or fewer in half Afghanistan’s provinces – and many families won’t let daughters study with a male teacher, especially as they get older. Afghan officials argue that it is difficult to get women to take teaching jobs, especially in remote areas, but a likely more important barrier is that because of corruption, teaching jobs are “purchased” in return for hundreds of dollars – something women are less able to do than men.[4]
  3. The government school system suffers from a lack of infrastructure, which specifically affects girls. For example, 60 percent of government schools have no toilets.[5] The lack of toilets has a disproportionate impact on girls, especially as they reach puberty and begin menstruation and have no facilities or privacy to manage their periods.

Our research also showed the importance of community-based education (CBE) programs, which are small schools that usually prioritize or solely serve girls. CBE is a completely parallel system of education from the government’s and risks being abandoned as funds are shifted from bilateral to multilateral funding mechanisms. As donors are giving less money, and the money they are giving is increasingly spent through pooled mechanisms rather than bilaterally, funding is being shifted out of CBE programs and into the government system that is not serving girls well — making it especially important that donors mitigate discrimination in the government system.[6]

In this context, we see the new EQRA project as a crucial moment for the World Bank to halt the decline in girls’ education in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch strongly urges the Bank and the countries contributing to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to insist that EQRA include:

  1. A requirement that the government end discrimination in the number of girls’ schools versus boys’ schools. This can be done most quickly by turning boys’ schools into mixed schools, and accomplished through a shift system or separate classes in communities where co-education is not feasible;
  2. Specific targets and timeline for equalizing access of girls to equivalent qualified and adequately trained female teachers as boys have to male teachers;
  3. A specific plan, and funding, for ensuring that all mixed and girls’ schools have adequate toilets — meaning toilets that are accessible, private, locking, and have access to water on-site, waste receptacles, plans for upkeep, etc.;
  4. A long-term plan to ensure the survival of CBE by using EQRA to integrate CBE into the government school system. The Afghan Ministry of Education should receive EQRA funds to establish CBE programs for girls, and the World Bank should monitor closely to ensure that these schools are run properly and serve girls; and
  5. A commitment to monitoring with a focus on gender-equity, including gender disaggregation of all indicators, and specific monitoring of all measures focused on assisting girls. Monitoring of the EQRA program will be crucial to its success and needs to include, from the outset, indicators and monitoring mechanisms that will fully capture the impact of the program on girls.

Thank you, and we look forward to your response. We would also be most happy to discuss this research with you or your staff in person or by telephone.

Cc: World Bank Board of Executive Directors


[1] Human Rights Watch, “I Won’t be a Doctor and One Day You’ll Be Sick: Girls’ Access to Education in Afghanistan,” October 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/17/i-wont-be-doctor-and-one-day-youll... (accessed June 12, 2018).

[2] This finding is confirmed by Afghan government statistics. Data in the government’s statistical yearbook for 2016-2017 compared to data 2015-2016 shows the number of girls enrolled in government schools fell in 32 out of 34 provinces. This decline is happening in a context in which girls were already frequently excluded. According to the Afghan Ministry of Education, 85 percent of all out-of-school children are girls. No province has 50 percent female students; in some provinces, enrolment is as low as 15 percent.

[3] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Central Statistics Organization, Statistical Yearbook 2015-16 and 2016-17, http://cso.gov.af/en/page/1500/4722/2016-17 and http://cso.gov.af/en/page/1500/4722/2015-2016 (accessed June 11, 2018).

[4] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, “Vulnerability to Corruption Assessment of the Ministry of Education,” October 2017, http://www.mec.af/files/2017_23_10_moe_english.pdf (accessed June 11, 2018).

[5] Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ministry of Education, “Afghanistan Education for All 2015 National Review,” 2015, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002327/232702e.pdf (accessed June 6, 2018), p. 25.

[6] CBE consists of small, local schools designed to provide primary education, often on an accelerated basis, to children who are unable to attend government schools due to reasons of distance, security, lack of female teachers, etc. There has been rigorous research showing that CBE helps to eliminate the gender gap in enrollment and in test scores.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am