COVID-19 Aftershocks: Access denied: Teenage pregnancy threatens to block a million girls across sub-Saharan Africa from returning to school



The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked unprecedented havoc on children, families and communities around the globe, disrupting vital services and putting millions of lives at risk. Since March, attempts to avert the global health crisis have seen nationwide school closures in 194 countries, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners -- over 90 per cent of the world's school-going population.

For the most vulnerable children, especially girls, accessing education and staying in school is hard enough. The pandemic has caused additional, unanticipated disruption, and the likelihood of vulnerable children being able to continue their education has plummeted. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, 258 million children and youth of primary and secondary school age were already failing to access education. On top of that, the United Nations now estimates that nearly 11 million primary and secondary school learners worldwide -- 5.2 million of whom are girls -- are at risk of not returning to education following school closures due to COVID-19.

This report spotlights one particular vulnerability that is known to be exacerbated by school closures in times of crisis and risks the continued education of vulnerable children: teenage pregnancy. School closures during crises can result in girls spending more time with men and boys than they would were they to be in school, leading to greater likelihood of engagement in risky sexual behaviour and increased risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Teenage pregnancy is further linked to lack of sexual and reproductive health education and services, child marriage, health and well-being risks, and increased poverty and insecurity. Complications from teenage pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death of girls aged 15 to 19 years worldwide.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more out-of-school children than any other region in the world. It also has the highest teenage pregnancy rates globally, making the region uniquely confronted by how to address and accommodate pregnancies and young mothers in school. Policies range across the region -- from outright expulsion of pregnant girls to strategies that support the continued education of adolescent mothers -- yet social norms, practices and other barriers still typically result in pregnancy being the end to one's education. World Vision estimates that as many as one million girls across subSaharan Africa may be blocked from returning to school due to pregnancy during COVID-19 school closures. With school closures related to COVID-19 threatening to lead to an increase in teenage pregnancy, sub-Saharan Africa is poised for a further crisis in girls' education unless governments and partners act now.