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On a balmy night in rural Mozambique, Angelina flips the pages of a biology textbook, studying hard to pursue her dream of being a nurse one day. In the next room, her daughter sleeps soundly. But only a few years ago, this bright young woman nearly had to drop out of school when she became pregnant, the victim of an unjust law that forced young mothers to leave school as punishment for getting pregnant.

In 2017, Angelina was a 16-year-old student in grade 6. Mozambique has a shortage of schools and trained teachers, and many children, especially girls in rural areas, start school late and drop-out after only a few years. Just 11% of girls make it to secondary school.

Adding to that challenge, 48% of girls in Mozambique are married before 18, and the average age a woman in Mozambique has her first child at is 18.9 years old. Girls who get married or pregnant prior to 18 were, until 2019, forced to drop out of regular school and attend special night classes. While it was intended to discourage teenage pregnancy and support young mothers, the actual result was that it pushed young mothers to drop out of school entirely.

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Angelina grew up in rural Mozambique, where educational opportunities for girls are rare.

Though Angelina entered school at a late age, she thrived once she got in. Right To Play supported her local school’s literacy club, which provided her and other girls who experienced interrupted or delayed schooling with special support. The teachers who support the club use active, experiential exercises in small groups to strengthen girls’ reading and writing and unlock their love of learning. The clubs also provide gender-sensitive education to girls like Angelina, boosting their confidence in themselves and guiding them to understand that despite traditional gender roles, they can do anything they wanted to with their lives.

Angelina had strong support from her father and mother to excel in her education, and everything was going to plan. She was on track to become one of the few girls in Mozambique who would go onto secondary school, and she dreamed of becoming a nurse. But then she and her boyfriend discovered that she was pregnant.

“I was in grade 7, and I became pregnant… It was a sad moment. I was young, I felt too immature to become a mother, and I wanted to continue my studies” she says. “I thought my classmates would bully me, and my teachers would think I made the worst mistake because our teacher had given us lectures on avoiding becoming pregnant.”

Sick with stress and worried about the future, she stayed home for two weeks, skipping school and avoiding her friends when they came to visit her. But her parents caught on quickly that something was wrong. When her father came to question her about what was going on, the truth came out. At first he was speechless, but after he got over the shock, he and Angelina’s mother told her that they would support her.

“My father is on the school council and had participated in counselling done by Right To Play about the importance of education for children, especially girls, and how it was a right even when they became pregnant. He strongly encouraged me not to give up classes because of the pregnancy. He said it was only one of the moments in a human being growing up and that the stress would pass. My parents helped me face that moment. The very next day I got ready to attend classes, despite my fear,” Angelina says.

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Angelina poses with her father, who serves on the school council and advocated for her right to continue to study even after she became pregnant.

Angelina was lucky compared to others. Many girls in Mozambique in similar situations would have been encouraged to drop out, but her parents had been convinced by a Right To Play session on girls’ right to an education. They decided to do anything they could to help her stay in school. The first step was to get her back to school. Once she was attending again, they wanted to ensure that she wasn’t forced to go to the night classes for pregnant girls where she would be more likely to drop out of school permanently.

Despite her fear, Angelina went back to class, and was surprised to find that everyone was relieved that she wasn’t seriously sick. Her mother reassured her that when the baby came, she would help Angelina look after it so that she could stay in school. Meanwhile, at the next school council meeting, Angelina’s father delivered an impassioned speech about the importance of girls’ right to an education, and insisted that Angelina would stay in regular day school with her friends.

His speech was so sincere and moving that the school council agreed that Angelina could stay. Not only did they support Angelina, the council also agreed to expand their protection to other young mothers, and to create a gender-focused committee, with Right To Play’s help, to think of other ways they could support girls.

With the help of the school council, her parents, friends, and teachers, Angelina continued her studies. In 2018, her daughter was born. Angelina’s mother and boyfriend look after her when Angelina goes to class. She beat the odds and became one of the lucky 11% of girls in Mozambique who go on to secondary school. She’s now in grade 10, and she hasn’t given up her dream of being a nurse.

“I would like to realize my dream of being a nurse. I want to teach other girls how to prevent pregnancy, and to help my community to fight disease. I feel I should contribute to girls’ education, especially around sexual and reproductive health, and I’m going to classes to learn more about it,” Angelina says.

Angelina was one of thousands of pregnant girls in Mozambique whose educational futures were imperiled by the law forcing them to leave day school. But in 2019, thanks to pressure from a coalition of local and international NGOs, including Right To Play, Mozambique’s government abolished the law forcing young women to attend special night schools, allowing them to stay with their peers in regular day classes.

Our work in Mozambique is part of the Gender Responsive Education and Transformation program. In 2018, Right To Play launched the Gender Responsive Education and Transformation (GREAT) program with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Active in three countries, Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda, GREAT uses Right To Play's play-based learning approach to remove barriers to education, especially for girls, and to build teacher capacity to improve learning outcomes.