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Sierra Leone: Pregnant teen defies odds and finishes school

February 1, 2022

One girl narrates to DW how she proved her mother and her teachers wrong by finishing school and starting college despite being a teenage mother.

Belly of a pregnant woman
In Sierra Leone, girls who become pregnant are normally married off or thrown out of homeImage: Evgeny Atamanenko/Colourbox

When Mariatu Ajiatu Kalokoh got pregnant at 17, her parents were furious.

"My mum wanted to drive me out of the house," Mariatu, who lived at the time in Lumley Beach, on the western edge of the capital, Freetown, told DW.

"But some of my neighbors spoke with her that she should be patient with me so that I can give birth and then give me a chance — maybe I will go back to school, or the guy who impregnated me will send me back to school," she said. 

But, shortly afterward, her dad returned home from a trip out of the country and kicked her out.

He relented a week later. However, her mother continued to make life difficult for her by sending Mariatu to the market or fetching water where she had to carry heavy loads, despite being pregnant.

"She was giving me something hard, something that would make me feel I shouldn't be in that kind of condition, that being pregnant is not for young girls," Mariatu said.

Mariatu Ajiatu Kalokoh stands on a beach speaking into a DW microphone, umbrellas
As a pregnant teen, Mariatu faced many obstacles at home and within the society Image: Claudia Anthony/DW

Social outcast

It was a lonely time. Other families in her community kept their children away from her as they saw Mariatu as a bad influence.

The school wasn't much better. Mariatu recalls one of her teachers badgering her, saying: "When you girls come to school, you want to follow boys. And now we see the result — the results are showing on you."

The harassment got so bad that Mariatu stopped going to school.

But then, unexpectedly, her life took a turn for the better. One day, while she watched TV, she saw a report about a Sierra Leonean woman called Peagie Woobay who had also fallen pregnant when she was young but had managed to finish school.

Now living in Sweden, Woobay had started up a foundation, the Peagie Woobay Scholarship Fund, to help pregnant girls and teenage mothers in Sierra Leone go back to school.

Map: Africa with countries color coded by the numbers of births per thousand 15-19 girls

Stroke of luck

Mariatu hopped straight onto Facebook and sent what would be the most important Facebook message of her life.

She contacted Woobay, whose foundation decided to support Mariatu.

"I went through Senior Secondary 3. I came first," Mariatu said.

In some ways, Mariatu was lucky. She completed her secondary education before 2015, when the Sierra Leonean government banned pregnant girls from attending school and taking state exams. This ban was subsequently overturned in 2020 by the West African regional body, ECOWAS.

Mariatu is convinced that there are only advantages to helping keeping expectant teens and young mothers in school.

"Allowing pregnant girls to go to school is a way of encouraging them to pursue their dreams, and it's a way of reducing poverty in Sierra Leone," she said.

Mariatu is now a full-time college student studying public administration.

Support essential

She said this wouldn't have been possible without the Peagie Woobay scholarship, which gave her a second chance.

More importantly, she proved to the foundation, community and teachers that she could make something of her life.

"I can proudly say I'm a teenage mom, but I'll be a procurement manager three years from now," she said.

And Mariatu's mother has forgiven her daughter for getting pregnant so young.

Plus, she now loves looking after her grandchild when Mariatu is in class.

"We are good again; we are cool," Mariatu said. "She actually thought I wouldn't have the courage to go back to school."

"After she saw I was doing very well, she was very happy with me.


Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu