University suspension over pregnancy: punishing sin or girls?

Last month, when a university in Kabale suspended three girls after they were found pregnant, it caused uproar. We explore the circumstances under which these girls and others like them are suspended and why this is a point of contention.

Wednesday May 7 2014

Some universities allow unwed girls who get pregnant to return to

Some universities allow unwed girls who get pregnant to return to class after they have given birth or after proving that they are in a recognised relationship with the father. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa 

By Christine W. Wanjala

When a Christian university suspended unwed female students because they were pregnant, uproar on social media came in floods.

There was camp outrage and protest against discrimination of women and the girl child. Then, there was the other side who insisted the Christian and church founded university has a clear code of conduct that guides student behaviour that all students in the university are well aware of and agreed to abide by before they joined the institution. Among them is that they will not engage in premarital sex.

It was not long before those protesting the action surged ahead with a section of the civil society and Parliament throwing their weight behind them.

However, the discussion was far from over as Barham University College Kabale, a constituent college of Uganda Christian University said it acted within its rights to suspend students who contravene their code of conduct. John Musisi Senyonyi UCU’s vice chancellor last week wrote an opinion in one of the dailies defending the suspension on moral grounds.

According to the university, pregnancy outside wedlock implied they had fornicated which goes against rules in the university’s code of conduct.

Media reports had earlier stated that 26 girls were expelled, but the university clarified that only three students were suspended towards the end of the semester in April.

“They were not even expelled nor were they suspended. They were told to go give birth, nurse the babies and come back when they have finished,” Reuben Twinomujuni, the university’s spokesman said.

Speaking via telephone to this newspaper last Friday, Twinomujuni painted the decision as one born of concern for the young mothers.
“We treasure women and the unborn children. We realise the struggles of being a mother and they simply could not handle [them] with struggles of exams and books,” he said.

He, however, said the university does not support sexual immorality, which is implied when no action is taken against pregnant unwed mothers.

Over the years, Twinomujuni said, there have been several other suspensions since it has always been the policy.

There are several religious run or sponsored institutions of higher learning in Uganda, each with its own code of conduct. If there is one thing denominations and religions seem to all be in agreement with, it is that pregnant and unwed persons do not go hand in hand with the code of conduct.

The Islamic University in Uganda for instance, requires all female students to have a pregnancy test at a university-run clinic at the beginning of each semester, according to Mohammed Mpeeza, the vice Rector, academic department at IUIU, who is also the chairman of the University’s disciplinary committee.

Those found pregnant go through a process of explaining their circumstances, Dr Mpeeza says, adding, “We approach each case differently.”

For instance, female students who don’t declare their marital status and are found pregnant have to produce proof of marriage, he further explains, adding that they will also be asked to move out of the halls of residence and seek accommodation outside the campus.

Those unable to prove any form of formal union will have to go through several other confirmatory tests after which they will have to face the disciplinary process.

“It is a long process but if she is found to be really unwed and pregnant then it is a breach of university regulations which she agreed to abide by and she shall surely be dismissed,” adds Dr Mpeeza.
What some students have resorted to
Each university has its own method of handling pregnancy among unwed students.

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