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As COVID19 Shutdown gets Lifted, Teenage Pregnancy Emerges as New Pandemic in Liberia - Report Shows

Education Minister, Professor Ansu Sonii, along with other stakeholders, has expressed distressing emotions over the impact of the Coronavirus on students across the country.

Sharing what could be considered a heartfelt concern at a ceremony marking the signing of a three-way memorandum of understanding on youth employability, Minister Sonii, upon mounting the podium for a statement, decried "The severe impact" of the coronavirus pandemic on the country's academic year. He noted that students' prolonged stay out of school has created several negative factors, especially for girls.

"I'm worried about our students, especially our girls. A huge number of them are now pregnant due to the long stay at home as a result of the lockdown," the Minister said.

He laid emphasis on senior students -- many of whom are now taking the West African Secondary School Certificate Exams (WASSCE). The seniors were ordered back to school over a month ago after schools were shut for nearly four months.

A report released by Plan International a few months ago indicated that COVID-19 puts girls at risk of unplanned pregnancies, violence, and missing out on school. According to the report, around 743 million girls were out of school due to the pandemic, and many may never return.

"With schools shut down around the world to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, girls are missing out on learning opportunities and are more likely to experience violence and abuse at home, unplanned pregnancies, child marriage, and economic hardship," said the report, titled, "Living Under Lock-down".

In June this year, UNESCO predicted that, of all students, girls would be the worst hit by COVID-19 - suggesting that the situation would likely increase the number of female students dropping out of school and further widening the gender gap in education.

"The global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled, and disadvantaged children are the worst-hit by the emergency measures," said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay in a release in early March this year.

Stefania Giannini, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Education, said in an interview with Press Trust of India (PTI), the premier Indian news agency, in April that shutting down of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic comes with a warning of "potential for increased drop-out rates which will disproportionately affect adolescent girls, further entrench gender gaps in education and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy and early and forced marriage".

Out of the total population of students enrolled in educational institutions globally, UNESCO estimates that over 89 percent are currently out of school because of the pandemic.

In Liberia, the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown is even more severe in rural communities, where early marriage of girls is also an entrenched problem. In early August, local media in Maryland County reported that five pregnant students were denied entry into classes after the MOE called for the resumption of academic activities for 12th graders.

In Nimba County, residents of Old Yourpea in Kparblee District were pushing for the resumption of classes to avert the risk of more female students getting pregnant. An Instructor of the SK Doe Memorial Junior High School, Jefferson Kweh, said: "Our girls are the most at risk during this closure of school. Most of them may not come back and it is worrisome."

Mr. Kweh noted that students can be preoccupied with their lessons when in school, and being out of school renders them less busy "Thereby indulging themselves in some unwholesome acts."

Source: Observer


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