Globally, “schoolgirl pregnancy” is cited as one of the primary barriers to girls’ education. But the story may not be as simple as it seems. Yes, an adolescent girl’s formal education is usually over the moment she becomes a mother. Laws and culture often discourage girls from returning to school after giving birth. Unmarried girls may be pressured to marry the father of the child. Married or not, having a child can put an adolescent girl under intense financial strain. Finding work might be the only way to provide for her young family. Going back to school may feel impossible.So how do we intervene? What can be done to support adolescent girls — to help those who want to prevent pregnancy and stay in school, and to help girls who give birth to continue their education?
In Country A, effective interventions would expand access to contraception and abortion services (depending on local laws) for adolescent girls, including educating girls about rights and gender norms, delaying sex and using contraception. Creation and enforcement of policies allowing pregnant girls to stay in school and return to school after the birth of their child may also improve girls’ education in these settings.
In Country B, combating school dropout would require interventions such as financial incentives for poor families to keep their daughters in school, informal education opportunities such as tutoring and girls’ groups for those at risk of dropping out, and raising girls’ and parents’ awareness about the benefits of secondary school education and delaying marriage.
First lady Michelle Obama and other luminaries have called recently for bold and creative action to keep girls in school and give them the opportunities they deserve. Championing girls’ education is critical. But what’s necessary for progress is to understand what’s threatening girls’ education so we can take the right measures to address these threats.