In a measure to tackle gender inequality in class and stop many girls from dropping out of school, the Zimbabwean government has now made it illegal for schools to expel pupils who get pregnant.
The legal amendment comes as school closures due to COVID-19 raise fears of a rise in sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies.
Many parents of pregnant girls, or the girls themselves, decide to quit schooling due to the pregnancy, and schools do not always do enough to encourage them to stay, officials say.
“I’m expecting every parent and guardian and everyone else to understand that every child must be assisted by all of us to go to school,” Cain Mathema, the education minister in charge of schools, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.
“Every child whether boy or girl … has a right to go to school in Zimbabwe,” he said.
In 2018, 12.5% of the country’s roughly 57,500 school dropouts stopped attending classes due to pregnancy or marriage reasons – almost all of them girls, according to Education Ministry statistics.
Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, founding director of advocacy group Tag a Life International and leader of a consortium of organisations while calling for the government to ensure the new law is enforced said she feared lockdown measures may have caused a spike in unwanted teen pregnancies.
“We are in a dangerous time where children have been out of school for a long time. Most of them are not even attending radio and television lessons,” she said.