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Ghana Striving to Stem School Drop Out Rate


In Ghana, about 20 percent of teenage girls drop out of school, or fail to finish their exams. Authorities say many of them leave school because they have become pregnant. Activists say the girls are ostracized by society, and should be provided the resources that would allow them to continue their education.

It is another school day at the Apenkwa Presbyterian Primary School in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, and pupils are studying science. But one member of the class is not in school today.

Mary's mother has accompanied her to a prenatal clinic. The attending nurse is advising her to eat more fruits and vegetables, so she and her unborn baby will be healthy.

Mary has not been to school for the past five months, since she discovered she was pregnant.

Like many young girls in deprived urban communities, Mary helps to support the family by selling kerosene after school. It was during one of those errands that a customer's husband, old enough to be her father, raped Mary.

Now 15, she is six months pregnant.

"It worries me. I have been having nightmares that disturbs my brains, and I want him arrested," she says, "I get nightmare of the incident, and I told my mother that it is worrying me, so I want him arrested."

It is a criminal offense in Ghana to have sexual relations with anyone under the age of 16. Offenders can face up to 25 years in prison.

But the man who got Mary pregnant is still walking free in the community because the incident has not been reported to the police.

The police believe a lot of rape cases in low income communities go unreported, because parents are more concerned about financial support for victims if the man, who is normally expected to provide financial support, is convicted.

In Mary's case, the man who got her pregnant promised her parents he would provide financial support for Mary through the pregnancy and pleaded with them not to report the incident to the police.

Asare Bediako, coordinator of the domestic violence and victims support unit of the Ghana police hopes a proposed domestic violence bill currently before parliament will facilitate conviction of men charged with rape and create a mechanism for government support of these girls and their babies.

"There is a provision in the memorandum, which will take care of eh…those who (are raped), and the man has been convicted and sentence to prison, the child has come out, how is he going to be taken care of? Such things will be taken care of by the government," he says.

Leticia is 14 and already a mother of a 10-month-old. She wants to go back to school, but her grandmother, who takes care of her and the baby, has asked Leticia to find a job.

More than 20 percent of girls drop out of basic school in Ghana every year. It is not known how many of them are pregnant, but the number is believed to be high, according to Victoria Donkor, acting director of basic education.

"I can't give you the actual figure, but I can give you a typical example of what happened in the just ended BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination) examination," she says. " When we went round to monitor, we realized that the girls' rate of absenteeism was higher than those of the boys, and the main reason that we were given was that they were pregnant, either pregnant, or they have just given birth, that's why they were not able to write their exams. So, that gives you a rough idea of the percentage of dropping out of school as a result of the girl getting pregnant."

Rights advocates have criticized the education authorities for compounding the problem by implementing a policy that allows heads of school to dismiss girls who become pregnant. Recently, there have been reports of girls being forced to undergo a pregnancy test.

Nana Oye Lithur, director of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, wants the practice abolished.

"When I read my law, what I can say is that their rights to education is being violated, especially because they are a vulnerable group, and we don't have, we have not collated a data in this country on how many of these female students who are dismissed from school because they are pregnant, how many of them are able to go back to school," she says. "You find out that not many of them are able to go back, once they are dismissed from school."

The education service defends its policy, saying pregnant girls are kept out of school for their own health and safety, and are allowed to come back to school after delivery.

However, Nana Lithur says the government needs to do more.

"It is one thing, just saying, the director just saying they can get back, (but) what provisions have you put in place. Because (if) the girl gets pregnant, she has to take care of the baby, she has to provide food, her economic status comes into play, and she also has to pay school fees," she says. " So, what sort of environment or what sort of situation do you create for such a girl to still be able to attend school."

Ghana is a state party to international and regional conventions and charters on the right of the child to education. Human rights advocates say the government, given this role, should be protecting children's rights.