International Day of the African Child

June 16, 2014

By Hendrina Doroba, Executive Director, Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and Mitsue Uemura, Regional Focal Point for Eastern and Southern Africa, UNGEI

What do we want: Education
Children throughout the world have struggled against violence, intimidation and fear to get an education. For a girl, simply walking to school can be an act of defiance and courage in some countries.

© UNICEF/MLWB2005-00025/Pirozzi

© UNICEF/MLWB2005-00025/Pirozzi

The Day of the African Child today is moving reminder of this fact.

The celebration marks the anniversary of the Soweto uprising in South Africa, 16 June 1976. The uprising ultimately was part of the movement that led to freedom in the South Africa. But it started as a march of students who objected to language requirements in the national educational policy – an unfair policy that marginalized many and failed to provide children with equal opportunities in school and life.

At least 176 people died in the protest.

Today, children still take risks to get an education.

The girls kidnapped in Chibok, Nigeria had attended school in dangerous surroundings for years. But they had persevered and were getting ready for exams when they were seized by Boko Haram. The world still waits for national and international authorities to ‘Bring Back Our Girls’.

Children call out for greater educational opportunities.

On The World We Want, the United Nation’s crowdsourcing initiative to identify priorities for the Post-2015 development agenda, ‘a good education’ tops the charts. Voters under age 15 give it extra emphasis. But even the over 60 crowd thinks it is the most important development issue.

So, have we gotten better at providing children a good-quality education? Well, there is some good news and bad news.

First the good news
The number of children who are not in school has decreased to more than 57 million since 2000 when the figure was 102 million.

A new set of reports, released on this day by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics say that over 30 million children of primary school age in sub-Saharan Africa remain out of school, with more than two-thirds of them in West and Central Africa.

For girls, there is some good news in Africa, according to the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). The gender parity index is 0.95. In other words, access to education for girls and boys is nearing 1, total equality. In 1999, the index was 0.87.

FAWE also reports that more than half of the girls in Africa can read and write. This represents an improvement from about 1994 when the youth literacy rate for girls was 43 percent.

Clearly, though, there is still work to do.

Now the bad news
Girls still have a hard time accessing a classroom. Take Nigeria, for instance. Of the 10.5 million primary school-age children not in school, 52 per cent of them are girls. That’s a figure that also comes from the Global Monitoring Report.

Add poverty to the mix and girls fall farther behind. In Mozambique, for example, about 30 per cent of the country’s poorest girls do not attend primary school. For boys in the same category, about 26 per cent do not attend school.

Why the gender inequality?
There are many reasons, but FAWE considers some of the main barriers to be:

  • Poverty
  • Attitudes that devalue education for girls
  • Child marriage
  • Adolescent pregnancy
  • Female child labour
  • Gender-based violence
  • Lack of basic sanitary facilities in schools

When do we want it: Now 

Efforts are underway around the world to provide equal access to the kind of high-quality education that will give children the skills and knowledge they need to live decent and productive lives. For girls, many efforts focus on making sure they transition to secondary school and are able to complete their educations.

The United Nations’ Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) exists to improve the quality of education for girls and to increase access to it. UNGEI works closely with partners in Africa and around the world, including FAWE, CAMFED and ANCEFA.

FAWE, for example, engages with governments, communities, schools and development organizations in 33 African countries to empower girls with gender-responsive education programmes.

The Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) offers innovated education programmes for girls in some of the poorest areas of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania. Throughout the continent, the African Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA) promotes free, quality education for all.

On this Day of the African Child, the African Union has called on governments to take action to create “a child-friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa.”

But girls and boys in Africa, calling out for an education would probably ask that we all take action every day.

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