Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Education is Not a Prophylactic, it's a Human Right

When a school girl becomes pregnant here, she is usually excluded from school. Ostensibly, she is allowed to return to school once she has delivered but, in practice, most never return to school. She is excluded on the grounds that she is a 'bad example' to her peers. The boy or man responsible for her pregnancy, apparently, does not set such a bad example. School boys who make school girls pregnant, if identified, are not excluded. Adults who make school girls pregnant can't be excluded, but they are rarely punished. Sometimes the adults who make school girls pregnant are their teachers.

So I was surprised to hear that seven teachers, one of whom is a principal, have been interdicted for such an offence in Bomet and Chepalungu districts, Kenya. In Bomet, 37 girls have become pregnant and have dropped out of school. Whether any of the girls are underage or not is less important than the fact that the teachers have behaved inappropriately for people in their position. It is hard to believe that they have not taken advantage of their position, in addition to breaching the trust of both their pupils and the parents of the pupils.

An official in the district referred to the teachers as 'amorous', which doesn't seem to be the most appropriate term and seems to miss the seriousness of the offences. Amorousness is not a crime but sexual assault and sexual assault on a minor are. Teachers are supposed to educate their pupils to enable them to avoid things like underage sex, sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. The schools may be willing to allow the girls to return to school later but the damage has been done. Some may return, but they will be at a serious disadvantage as a result of their experience.

Another article suggests that education is 'crucial to lowering [HIV] prevalence' because HIV prevalence in Tanzania has dropped among those with secondary education whereas it has remained static among those with little or no education. I object to the suggestion that education is good just because it reduces the risk of HIV. Education is a human right. It is an intrinsic good, not just an instrumental good that reduces HIV prevalence.

However, the article's conclusions must be difficult to establish because primary and secondary students who become pregnant, the ones who were least likely to be using condoms (and therefore at most risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections), are excluded from school. They are no longer in the demographic in question. But they can not be excluded from the 'little or no education' demographic. This may skew the figures, somewhat. (I don't have access to the full paper, so the authors may have allowed for this possibility).

I'm glad to hear that education officials are realising that when a girl gets pregnant, a male is involved, either a man or a boy. They are also starting to admit that some teachers are involved and are punishing the perpetrators, rather than just the victims. But education, and education for girls, in particular, still appears to be seen as something less important than education for boys. And it also appears to be seen as a way of reducing HIV prevalence, rather than a human right. Well educated boys and girls, men and women, will be able to ensure their own health and welfare, that's why it is a human right.


No comments: