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Young and pregnant in Sierra Leone

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Pregnant girls in Sierra Leone are prevented from attending school, as they are thought to be a bad influence on their peers.

In April 2015 – just as schools re-opened after the Ebola crisis – the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology issued a statement banning pregnant girls from mainstream education and from sitting exams.

The ban was enforced through invasive physical examinations of the girls.

Luci is pregnant with her second childImage copyrightOLIVIA ACLAND

Just under two years on, and the ban is still in place. Learning centres typically specialising in skills such as catering, tailoring, and hairdressing act as alternatives to school and are open to pregnant girls.

Olivia Acland photographed these girls, collecting their stories, and discovering that girls very rarely return to mainstream education after being pushed out of it.

Emma sits with a small childImage copyrightOLIVIA ACLAND
Image captionEmma and her child with other students

Twenty-year-old Emma said:

“I moved to this learning centre when I got pregnant and am studying catering. At my old school I had to tell my teacher I was pregnant because she caught me sleeping at the desk. After that I was pulled into the principal’s office and told not to come back.”

Mariema stands against a wallImage copyrightOLIVIA ACLAND
Isatu stands outsideImage copyrightOLIVIA ACLAND
Image captionIsatu near her home

Isatu is 18 and wants to be a hairdresser, she said:

“I am learning the skills in a learning centre near to where I live. I used to dream of becoming a doctor but I don’t think that is realistic any more. I doubt I’ll ever go back to school.”

Zainab stands outsideImage copyrightOLIVIA ACLAND
Jeneba stands outsideImage copyrightOLIVIA ACLAND
Image captionJeneba left school when her bump began to show

“I remember my principal saying that it is an abomination for the school to have pregnant girls attending,” Jeneba continued.

“As soon as I started to show I left. When I see my friends in their school uniforms I feel sad and ashamed.”

Isha sits on the sofa