School ban on pregnant teens divides Equatorial Guinea

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“Pregnancy is neither a crime nor a mental illness,” insists Imelda Bosuala, a 15-year-old who was turned away by her school in Equatorial Guinea after falling pregnant.

When the school term began last month, the government had put in place a new rule — in order to enrol, all teenage girls must take a pregnancy test.

And a positive test means no more education.

Speaking on state television, deputy education minister Maria-Jesus Nkara said the tough new measure sought to encourage schoolgirls to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancies.

A month into the new term, it is still too early to tell how many girls have been affected by the ban in a country where teenage girls come under heavy pressure to start a family.

World Bank figures show that in 2014, the birth rate among Equatorial Guinean adolescents aged 15-19 was 110 in 1,000.

The figure is substantially higher than the global average of 44 per 1,000, but lower than in other African nations such as Niger (204), Mali (175) and Angola (167).

Rights organisations have criticised the authorities for violating the right to education, slamming the measure as another example of repression in this tiny oil-rich nation whose president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has ruled with an iron fist since seizing power in a 1979 coup.

Illegal abortion fears

But opinions within the country are divided.

“This is a good decision,” said 13-year-old Sabina in the playground of Bioko Norte high school in the capital, Malabo.

“Coming to class while you’re pregnant shows a lack of respect.”

Even Bosuala herself is in two minds. “Pregnancy is also not a good example to set in the school environment,” she admits.

But French teacher Gerardo Ndong believes the decision was “foolish”.

And Trifonia Melibea, a sociologist and teacher at the National University of Equatorial Guinea, was also dismayed by the decision.

“These adolescents are being deprived of the fundamental right to education. That’s an insult,” she said.

She also warned that the measure could push teenagers into seeking abortions in “inhuman conditions”.

In the former Spanish colony of 800,000 people, pregnancies can be legally terminated only if there is a threat to the health of the mother and with the authorisation of the spouse or parents.

Daughters as ‘trade items’

Efua, whose 14-year-old daughter is expecting a baby, believes the government should open a dedicated school “especially for young pregnant girls” so they can keep up their studies.

Early pregnancies are most common in poor families, where adults might even consider sending a daughter out as a sexual offering.

“Some parents use their daughters as items of trade, asking them to go out with rich men to help the family survive,” said 19-year-old Ana Rita.

Sociologist Martin Ela pointed to increasing pressures from consumerism since oil production began in the 1990s.

“These little girls go out with someone who is able to give them a smartphone because they want to be on Facebook or WhatsApp,” Ela said.

Melibea said teenage girls were particularly vulnerable to pressure.

“In Equatorial Guinea, if a girl reaches the age of 18 without having a child, everybody starts saying she’s barren,” she said.

The high number of teen pregnancies can also be linked to the absence of legislative protection for minors against sexual harassment, meaning abusive men can operate with impunity.

‘Devastating consequences’

Sierra Leone introduced a similar ban on pregnant teens last year, prompting a sharp reaction from Amnesty International.

“Excluding pregnant girls from mainstream schools and banning them from sitting crucial exams is discriminatory and will have devastating consequences,” the London-based rights group said in a study released in November 2015.

“Education is a right and not something for governments to arbitrarily take away as a punishment.”

The report said the prohibition, which was sometimes enforced through “humiliating physical checks”, was likely to affect an estimated 10,000 young girls and risked destroying their future life opportunities.

The ban has yet to be lifted.

Source:Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) (AFP)

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Angolan court frees 17 jailed activists

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An Angolan court on Wednesday ordered the conditional release of 17 young activists, including a well-known rapper, three months after they were jailed for rebellion against President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Most of group were arrested during a book club meeting in June last year where one of the books on the line-up was about non-violent resistance to repressive regimes.

The activists maintained throughout their trial they were peaceful campaigners for the departure of dos Santos, who has been in power since September, 1979 and rules the oil-rich country with an iron fist.

“Release warrants under house arrest were issued on behalf of 17 applicants to be executed from the present day,” the Supreme Court in Luanda said in a statement.

The ruling overturns sentences ranging from two to eight years in prison, which were handed down at the end of a lengthy trial in March amid complaints about political repression.

One of the accused, rapper Luaty Beirao, went on hunger strike for over a month last year to protest against his detention.

Defence lawyer Francisco Miguel Michel said Wednesday he was “very happy”.

“Any court concerned with the application of justice would have ruled the same,” he said, insisting his clients “committed no crime”.

Human Rights Watch researcher Zenaida Machado told AFP the ruling was “long overdue”.

“The order should have been given immediately after the verdict in March… I am satisfied that the Supreme Court is upholding the law of the country,” she said.

AFP

Angola’s yellow fever death toll tops 300: WHO

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Angola’s yellow fever outbreak has killed more than 300 people since December, with cases of the deadly disease spreading to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and even China, the World Health Organization has said.

The outbreak was first detected in the capital Luanda at the end of last year, and has now been confirmed in most coastal and central regions of the west African country.

“Angola has reported 2,536 suspected cases of yellow fever with 301 deaths,” WHO said in an update released Thursday.

“Despite vaccination campaigns in Luanda, Huambo and Benguela provinces, circulation of the virus persists in some districts.”

WHO warned of unimmunised travellers spreading the virus after neighbouring DR Congo reported 41 cases imported from Angola, with two cases in Kenya and 11 in China.

“The outbreak in Angola remains of high concern due to persistent local transmission in Luanda despite the fact that more than seven million people have been vaccinated,” WHO said.

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, a viral hemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes and found in tropical regions of Africa and Latin America’s Amazon region.

Yellow fever vaccinations are routinely recommended for travellers to Angola, though the country had not previously seen a significant outbreak since 1986.

Aid groups have warned of poor health facilities and vaccine shortages limiting Angola’s ability to cope with the outbreak.

AFP