Lets Punish Pregnant Teenagers in Samoa

I’m angry – about schools that expel teenage students who get pregnant. Access to education is a necessity for every child, and a young woman in this situation has an even greater need for education as she is about to become a parent and teacher to her own child. A pregnant teenager needs a supportive learning environment – not to have the doors of that learning environment slammed in her face. Way to violate basic human rights Samoa…

Samoa prides itself on being a Christian country “founded on God.” I fail to see where Christian principles of love, compassion and “judge not that thou be not judged…” – fit into a school’s morally indignant stance as they argue that a pregnant student “sets a bad example to the others…and we cannot condone her choices blah blah.” Yes – because allowing a pregnant girl to waddle among you so that the other students can see up close just how fun it is to grow a baby AND try to study AND (most probably) endure the gossipy, cruel and snide treatment of many…is really going to make all the other teenagers want to run out and have wild, wicked sex IMMEDIATELY.

And yes, because none of you school administrators or teachers have ever engaged in “reckless” or “morally questionable” behaviour before, and now know how important it is to have compassionate, supportive people around you to help you move forward and deal with the consequences of your choices.

And lets not forget that thanks to the disgustingly high rate of sexual abuse, incest and rape in this country – its a very real possibility that the pregnant teenager you’re punishing, didnt have a choice in how that baby got there in the first place.

If it was consensual sex, then I wonder- are these schools kicking out the boys who also chose to have sex? If one of their male students is the father of the pregnant teen’s baby – does he get expelled too? Not that it would make any of this less reprehensible – nobody should have their access to education denied because they made a baby.

And lets be clear – thats why the pregnant student is being punished. Not because she broke school rules on ‘having a boyfriend’ or because she violated some moral code of conduct by having sex. Its purely because she has made a baby (with 50% contributing participation from someone else.) I’ve been a teacher in Samoan high schools and I know there are many young people choosing to have sex. (Not at school and not in front of everyone, thankfully…but theyre doing it.) Those students are not getting expelled. They still get to have an education. Schools arent branding them with a scarlet letter and casting them out. No, its not sex that gets you expelled. Its pregnancy.

Which makes this a woman’s rights issue. And a developmental planning issue. And a national educational goals issue. Not to mention, a contraceptives-access issue and a reminder of how important good sexual health education is; in our schools, churches, villages and families.

MESC (the government ministry responsible for education in Samoa) needs to formulate a clear policy that addresses the issue of students getting pregnant. It should be illegal for any school to refuse access to a pregnant teenager. Not only that, it should outline strategies for schools on how they can be a strong support system for young mothers so as to best ensure they stay in school throughout a pregnancy and then complete their education once they have a child. I had my first child at a young age when i was at university – so I know how hard it can be to have a baby AND go to school. But it can be done, WITH the support of school admin and staff, friends and family.

All of us know a young woman who got pregnant a whole lot sooner and earlier than she planned – and tough choices had to be made about school. Maybe she’s a friend, a cousin, a sister, a daughter. Maybe that young woman is you. All of us know its not an easy road but there’s a lot we can do to support, empower and uplift each other. Denying a woman equal access to education because she’s pregnant is discrimination, pure and simple.

We can do better than this Samoa. We have to.

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17 comments

  1. OMG this post showcases and addresses so many issues in our CULTURE on so many levels. I love how you have brought it to life. It is unfair and indeed a blatant dismissal’s of the young mother-to-be’s human rights!!!! Ironically, the system allows a teacher to beat you with a stick, slap you on the face, humiliate you with degrading and often times unacceptable comments or students (in the same school or an arch enemy in a rival school) can almost beat each other to death and throw stones at each other’s buses (and thereby harm innocent bystanders like the elderly and the school-less child trying to make a living for the parents that pull them out of their god-given right to education) and ‘punishment’ will be in the form of a few days of suspension (every ulavale kid’s dream btw!) or a hug and kiss make up discussion between principals…yet the PREGNANT child (who might have been raped but oh so scared) must be BANNED because unlike the openly-having-sex at a young age and get away with it, she can in no way hide that protruding belly that contains the growing cells of life! WTH is wrong with this picture!!!? I think the Public Education System/policies (if any) need to be revisited…our culture condemns this because it is ‘traditional’ way of thinking and people are ..afraid to defy tradition or go against culture? This is WRONG!

  2. I live in Hawaii where girls that have gotten pregnant are allowed to continue going to school, and in fact, have so many girls that have gotten pregnant, that in our local high school, they have a “pregnant girls class” – for want of a better description. Because of the whole incest/rape problem in Samoa, I tend to be less judgmental, but being pregnant, no matter how you got pregnant shouldn’t matter, and so I feel that ALL girls deserve to continue in their education, as it is our God given right to gain an education so that they can be better equipped to becoming a better “mother”, and the boys who are the fathers of these pregnancies who aren’t expelled, well, simply put, it isn’t fair – but I feel there is a sentiment that runs through our teenagers minds that “everyone is doing it” – therefore it’s OK, and I’m referring to having sex. I’m sure that the idea behind expelling the girls from school is to act as some sort of deterrent, so that girls won’t have sex and won’t get pregnant, because there is shame involved in that. I’m from the OLD SCHOOL, I say that because I speak from experience. I had a pregnant teenage daughter in high school, both my parents are Samoan, and the shame “I” felt was huge, the disappointment that I knew my parents would have in ME was astounding, but you know what, my children didn’t AND DON’T feel that way. In some ways I’m glad that they don’t see the shame, as I felt it – but in some other ways, I wish they did. Bottom line: My children are better equipped adults because they were ALLOWED to finish their schooling….two wrongs don’t make a right.

  3. Saving face trumps right or wrong and will forever transcend time or culture in our imperfect world! As long as the female carries the obvious tell-tale signs of an interaction that required the participation of an equally responsible male, we know who walks away with the ‘get out of jail free card’.

    1. Love Ricky Soliai’s statement…and in total agreement with Lani’s article. And until our people truly give their hearts to studying the heart of Jesus in the Word of God—compassion, love, understanding, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness—and until WE all see what sinful wretches WE ALL are, and how Jesus went to the cross, carrying our sins, knowing that He was hated for making us realize that sin, we will NEVER understand His mercy and love…and we will never know how to show it. Lest we forget those who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, by those who committed adultery with her, Jesus did not condemn her. He urged her to go and sin no more…And the stone throwers? With a short statement from our Lord, they were condemned by their own actions. So to all the pastors, ministers, priests, government officials, school officials, neighbours, fellow students of pregnant girls (especially you boys who often are given the “get out of jail free” card!), before you begin to look at someone else’s sin, TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT YOUR OWN SIN!

      1. You are welcome, Lani… keep up the good work, and may God continue to make your voice heard through the written word as long as there are wrongs to be made right.

  4. I support this article because it hits home for me. I can’t believe I’ve been so blind to these issues. So thanks for bringing it up for public input. This can be a very confusing case of whether it’s legal or not because there is a boundary where schools CAN do this. If it is a private school, AND they have it in their policy written somewhere, then yes they can. Although, I do disagree if any school in Samoa (Private or Public) have such policies that will discriminate a girl who is pregnant under “Standards of the Church”(any church), and culture. I make the distinction between “private” and “public” because apparently in other countries there are some schools operated by the church that are essentially public and under government control. Any private school, can set their own policies regarding student behavior. If they received a student handbook, or agreed to a code of behavior when you enrolled (it would be in writing), now is the time to look at it. I believe this is not the case in Samoa.

    If schools or the government decide to make this a law, then at least provide support for a funded home schooling program that could eliminate the discrimination of these girls; but it’s obvious that the “MESC” haven’t thought of it. There are many ways that could help make this law/rule better, convenient, and appropriate for these girls.

    Again, if executive decisions like “expelling” girls are based on our cultural and church values, then like stated in this article, we miss out on the “forgiveness, selfless love, and compassion” that this very culture and Christianity holds.

    This article has pointed out strong points, and I strongly agree. I’ve only stated the points I’ve made, to only try to point out the loopholes that these schools may or might use to defend this, but this surely shouldn’t give them a reason to do so.

  5. Bravo I love love it, well said could NOT do it any better dan u dear Well done hope da message gets spread through to our people BRAVO 🙂

  6. Well written Lani. Samoa is in breach of its CEDAW obligations by allowing this practice to continue. Here in Kiribati the expulsion of pregnant students has also been a long-standing practice, and has seriously inhibited the education of some very promising young women. The new Education Act (which entered into force on 1 January) now expressly prohibits the expulsion of a student on grounds that the student is pregnant or is a parent. The challenge will be in ensuring that word of this change gets out, to prevent such repugnant abuses from continuing.

  7. As a mother who also had a child while in University, I can confidently say that education was my lifeline despite the trials and hardships I faced. Having a child didn’t stop me from getting my degree, it only gave me a stronger drive and the fire in me to work harder. To hear the disappointing stats about this disgusting rule really makes my faith in Samoa hinder, granted I fully understand the ‘old school’ traditions that are still held today and the importance it still has on Samoa/Samoans. I’ve witnessed and experienced just a small taste of it first hand when I fell pregnant, and can honestly empathise with all those young girls who have to face the looks, snickers and backchat let alone having their rights to an education stripped from them because of their circumstances. Even here in New Zealand, young teenage girls getting pregnant is a soft and in some case sore spot to touch base on, so just imagining what it’s like for those girls, in a country where beating a student in class is called ‘discipline’ and getting pregnant young or before marriage gets you called some horrible names, is really discouraging to my Samoan morale. First they stop them from having an education therefore hindering their chances of finding well paying jobs, then they condemn them for not having such ‘well paying jobs’ that could’ve helped to support their child, it’s unjust and unfair. I praise you Lani for bringing this issue up. It’s about time someone spoke out about things like these. If only more people did.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. Its important for our young women to hear our stories and have these conversations so they know they are not alone and it is possible to still pursue an education. With support of course. This is a challenging issue for many and we’re talking about long held beliefs and supposed “traditions” – but change needs to happen.

  8. This is sad. Samoa is a forward thinking nation that has produced many male and female leaders around the globe. I am surprised and saddened to read that education and support is denied to one who probably needs it the most. Her and her child are being assigned a life of struggle, as without an education it is hard to provide the best for your children. Very sad indeed.

    1. I agree. I believe women in our Samoan culture hold a place of equality and premarital sex and/or pregnancy are not traditionally seen as bad things. Christianity has changed that and we now attach a lot of stigma to it. I hope we can focus more on the love/compassion/tolerance/forgiveness/family side of Christianity and less on the shaming of women. Maybe that would help.

  9. Is Education in Samoa a Right, Liberty or Privilege.

    If a school has rules and your break them, you pay the consequences. The Root, of the matter is “Personal Responsibility”, if it was consensual. In life, you make choices and they come with Very Serious Consequences, regardless of a moral vantage point. Granted I believe the male counter part should also be expelled if the female counterpart is reprimanded.

    But after reading your article, the conclusion seems to be that the School districts have not come to a unified decision and or have also not made a consistent punishments with each case. This would create unfair and discriminatory practices among schools. Perhaps alternative schooling measure should be in place for these circumstances like what we have here in the states with access to Adult School, After School, Continuatioin School, Home School, Online School, Independent Study… etc but which ever would suit best for the student.

    – Post Hoc, Ergo Propter …

    1. Good point – and yes, there should be consequences when a student breaks school rules they have agreed to abide by. However, Samoa has ratified CEDAW which states education for all children IS a right. Not a privilege that one must “live a sexually pure life” to have. As such, we do need then to have a consistent education policy on this and perhaps alternative schooling options is part of that?

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