I am glad to see that "UNICEF's child protection officer, Heather Stewart, has brought this situation to light, since it needs to be reviewed and changed, and that the Education Act be uphold.
By Karin Dear
Heather Stuart: UNICEF's child protection officer
PREGNANT TEENAGE GIRLS in Barbados are being sent home and told not to return to school.
But that is against the law.
At least 30 pregnant teenagers over the past two years may have been “sent home” by school principals who flout the Education Act.
That act calls for compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and 16 years.
In a recent interview with the Sunday Sun, UNICEF’s child protection officer, Heather Stewart, raised a red flag about the number of school principals throughout the Caribbean who were violating the law by disrupting the education of dozens of pregnant teenagers by “sending” them home.
Yesterday, Chief Education Officer Wendy Griffith-Watson confirmed that an undisclosed number of pregnant teenagers had been, and continue to be sent home by principals who disregard the act by making unilateral decisions when they tell a pregnant student to stay home.
UNICEF is concerned that many such students may not return to the classroom after giving birth.
“We have a problem in the Caribbean with the exclusion of teen mothers from education,” said Stewart. “And, while there is no policy against the return of teen mothers to school, we do know that there are individual principals who will refuse to take such a child.”
In Barbados, noted Griffith-Watson, the Ministry of Education is running a programme for about 30 to 35 such teenagers who may either be pregnant or have already given birth in the past year or so, to assist them with coping skills.
Furthermore, continuing education classes provided by qualified teachers are held for pregnant teenagers and new teenage mothers each afternoon at Foundation, St James Secondary and Springer Memorial schools, although there is a cost involved. Why is there a need for a cost to be involved, if the teens choose to return to continue there education?
She also cited a number of reasons that often motivate a principal’s decision to ask a pregnant student to leave school, not the least of which included a history of bad behaviour and attitude.
Other reasons included an inability to get homework done, morning sickness, and difficulty in wearing school uniforms which were not designed for an advanced pregnancy.
“We don’t have maternity school uniforms,” said Griffith-Watson, “and some of these girls do better in continuing education classes where they can wear their own clothes and don’t feel so embarrassed.”
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