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Uhuru signs law on free sanitary towels for schoolgirls

President Uhuru Kenyatta signs a Bill into law at State House, Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
President Uhuru Kenyatta signs a Bill into law at State House, Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Schoolgirls who have reached puberty will now receive free sanitary towels from the government, a new law aimed at minimising absenteeism and putting them at par with their male counterparts says.

The Basic Education Amendment Act places the responsibility of providing free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels on the government in order to reduce the number of girls missing school during their menstrual cycle.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday signed the Bill into law, which also compels the government to provide a safe and environmentally sound mechanism for disposal of the sanitary towels.

“The Basic Education Amendment Act amends Basic Education Act, placing the responsibility of providing free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl child registered and enrolled in a public basic education institution and has reached puberty, on the government,” it states.

A 2016 Unesco report estimates that one in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa is absent from school during their menstrual cycle.

Data from the Ministry of Education indicates that a girl absent from school for four days in 28 days (month) loses 13 learning days equivalent to two weeks of learning in every school term. In an academic year (nine months) a girl loses 39 learning days equivalent to six weeks of learning time.

A girl in primary school between grades 6 and 8 (three years) loses 18 learning weeks out of 108 weeks. Within the four years of high school a girl can lose 156 learning days equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning.

In November last year, the government removed duty charged on raw materials used in production of sanitary pads, giving manufacturers a shot in the arm.

Before the concession, raw materials used in the making of sanitary pads attracted value added tax (VAT) at 16 per cent and excise duties of 25 per cent.  This was despite sanitary pads being exempt from VAT and attracting zero excise duty.

Existence of the tax had effectively given an upper hand to non-resident manufacturers at the expense of the local producers.

The Basic Education Amendment Bill (2016) was among nine Bills that Mr Kenyatta signed to law yesterday. Others were the Division of Revenue Bill 2017, Finance Bill (2017), Supplementary Appropriation Bill (2017), Insurance Amendment Bill (2017), Health Bill (2015), Hydrologist Bill (2016), the Clinical Officers Bill (2016), and National Coroners Service Bill (2016).

Editor's note: An earlier version of the piece indicated that a girl in primary school loses 18 learning weeks out of 108 weeks in a year. According to data from the Ministry of Education, a girl absent from school for four days in 28 days (month) loses 13 learning days equivalent to two weeks of learning in every school term. In an academic year (nine months) a girl loses 39 learning days equivalent to six weeks of learning time.

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