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World Breastfeeding Week – The Need to Strengthen Re-entry Policies for Adolescent Mothers

As we commemorate World Breastfeeding Week under the theme "Let’s make breastfeeding at work, work", UNESCO, through its flagship programme Our rights, Our lives, Our future (O3), wishes to emphasize the need to also better support breastfeeding students, especially adolescent mothers and highlight the importance of re-entry policies in ensuring their continued education.

In the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) Region, the prevalent issue of early motherhood among school-going girls is a matter of deep concern. The high rates of early and unintended pregnancies (EUP) in the region pose significant obstacles to girls' education and overall well-being. Taking action to support these girls is crucial to ensure their educational opportunities are not hindered.

UNESCO, through its O3 Programme, acknowledges the challenges faced by adolescent mothers who wish to breastfeed while continuing their studies. To address this, we advocate for educational institutions to implement essential measures that enable adolescent mothers to balance their academic pursuits with their responsibilities as caregivers, thereby promoting both the well-being of the child and the educational advancement of the mother.

UNESCO supports re-entry policies that seek to prevent school dropout for adolescent mothers. The persistently high rate of EUP, particularly among disadvantaged girls and in rural areas, remains a significant obstacle to achieving universal secondary school completion in African countries. Re-entry policies play a crucial role in mitigating this challenge by providing a pathway for adolescent mothers to return to school after giving birth. By empowering adolescent mothers through education, we contribute to the advancement of gender equality in education, which lays the foundation for a more equitable society.

As we reflect on the progress made in promoting gender equality and inclusive education policies, UNESCO, through its O3 Programme, acknowledges that much remains to be done to support breastfeeding students and adolescent mothers in their educational journey. The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of effective re-entry policies, as many countries recorded high numbers of teenage pregnancies during school closures.

When Anita, from Mazabuka, Zambia, found herself pregnant at 14 in 2017, her world seemed to turn upside down. Despite the challenges she faced, Anita clung to her dreams and aspirations, declaring: “I would like to be a nurse, I like to care for others.” She was fortunate to benefit from the school re-entry policies from Zambia. Now, at the age of 19, Anita stands tall with her 5-year-old son, having defied the odds stacked against her.

UNESCO, through its O3 Programme, commends the efforts of countries implementing school re-entry policies. However, countries in the ESA region need to maintain their commitment to creating supportive educational environments for adolescent mothers and reducing the education access gap. By promoting breastfeeding support and re-entry policies, we can foster an environment that empowers every child and mother to thrive. Together, let’s build a future where every young mother can pursue her dreams and contribute to a more equitable and prosperous society.

This initiative is part of the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Programme (O3) empowering adolescents and young people in Sub-Saharan Africa to develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes they need to prevent HIV infections, reduce early and unintended pregnancies, and eliminate gender-based violence.

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This is a very fruitful work.

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