A letter from the Bugesera District-based Blue Lakes International School Deputy Principal Bhumika Saxena requesting female students to each produce a pregnancy test certificate as one of the pre-requisites for admission has left many parents and activists reeling with shock.
The mandatory test has lifted the lid on what is now believed to have now become a norm in several private schools in the country.
In her letter dated October 20, Saxena explained to parents and guardians that the school management was doing this to allow ‘a smooth transition from home to physical teaching’.
The letter attracted heated social media debate with some people questioning the legitimacy of such a request, and the message it sends to girls who could be pregnant but are interested in continuing their education.
As of February this year, over 78,000 babies had been born to teen mothers in a period of four years.
There are no fresh official countrywide numbers of teen pregnancies but with the outbreak of Covid-19 which saw all schools countrywide close since March, the numbers are expected to increase significantly.
So far, tentative reports show that at least 550 teenage girls from Bugesera District were pregnant by October this year.
In Rwamagana District, from July 2019 to June 2020, some 300 teenagers were impregnated. Half of them became pregnant after the outbreak of the pandemic.
In the past eight months, 424 teenage girls from the Northern Province have been confirmed pregnant.
The Executive Director of the Health Development Initiative (HDI), Dr. Aflodis Kagaba, told The New Times in a telephone interview that the practice is outdated, ill motivated and an infringement on girls’ rights.
“I don’t see a good rationale or genuine motivation for this. What happens when you find out that she is pregnant? Making this mandatory means that some of these people are denying some pregnant girls their right to continue their education in their school of choice. What tests do boys have to do?” he wondered.
He suggested that students should instead be empowered with accurate information so that they can make informed decisions.
On Twitter, Chantal Umuhoza, a feminist, expressed her suspicion of a negative motive which she said would in the end exclude the wellbeing of the teen girls.
“The intention of asking for pregnancy tests before one goes to school cannot be a positive motive. It’s more about keeping those pregnant out of schools for the school's "reputation" and not to support the girls.” she said.
Robert Cyubahiro McKenna, a journalist said that this test has become a norm in many schools especially the private over the years.
He explained that although he didn’t know any school that particularly required a pregnancy test until this letter was published, most schools request for a medical report which includes a pregnancy test.
Another social media user, Natasha Kamanzi, said that there is a need to draw a line between a general medical report and a pregnancy test because the request for the latter was not for good intentions.
“A full medical check-up is different from a specific pregnancy test. A full check-up makes sense because if any student has a medical issue, they then would know where to start from, but I don’t think that a pregnancy test will positively facilitate anyone found,” she said.
Larissa Tona Uwicyeza (school name withheld) is a student who has been subjected to mandatory testing for a couple of years.
She explains that while it was something that her parents felt that she needed in order to be admitted in school, she felt it was unfair to the girls.
“Yes, some students engage in pre-marital sex but I felt it was unfair that girls are the only ones who have to be burdened with this. My mother hates taking me for the test but she has no choice,” she said.
To seek answers, The New Times called the Principal of Riviera High School; Boniface Onyango to confirm reports that teenage girls at his school are required to take pregnancy tests at the beginning of every term.
In the interview, Onyango confirmed that producing a negative pregnancy test is a condition that girls at his school must fulfil before admission.
He said that Riviera High School does not admit any girl who is pregnant and any of their students found pregnant is dealt with based on the school’s ‘private policy’.
“We do not admit you (pregnant girl) because the school reserves the right of admission. The truth is that we do not have a maternity facility at school. Ours is to educate and I believe we have a reservation of who and whether we will be able to take their condition alongside our learning,” he said.
Ministry weighs in
The Ministry of Education’s Salafina Flavia, who is in charge of Information, Education and Communication told this publication that while premarital sex is strongly discouraged, efforts are being put into ensuring that teen mothers stay in school and continue their education.
“We condemn any action that anyone can take to keep girls who may be pregnant from being in school. Discouraging these girls an opportunity to be in school is basically multiplying the challenges that they are already facing. She is already pregnant, that should not be reason for her to also be an uneducated young mother,” she said
Salafina said that the government is currently pushing girls that are pregnant to go back to school and only return home when the time to deliver their babies draws close.
By press time, Blue Lakes International School had withdrawn its request for a mandatory test saying it was no longer necessary.Follow https://twitter.com/Africannash