Guarantee free education for all; Treat abuses
(Nairobi) – African Governments across the continent need to accelerate efforts and provide adequate funding to ensure that all children can enjoy their right to an education, Human Rights Watch said to mark African Children’s African Union Day.
Despite significant progress over the past decades to ensure the ratification and widespread implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, many African children have been denied their basic right to education. This includes tens of thousands of girls who face discriminatory barriers due to pregnancy, parenting or child marriage. Children in at least 18 African countries affected by attacks against the education and military use of their schools.
“Children across Africa face many abuses and related barriers every day to their right to an education,” he said. Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Director of African Advocacy at Human Rights Watch. “Millions of children have been expelled or left behind in their education during the pandemic, and the economic impact has forced many to take on often dangerous and exhausting work, forcing them to drop out of school.”
2021 African Union theme focuses on accelerating its implementation Agenda 2040, which describes AU commitments to ensure progress for children and young people. Ensuring the right to free, quality and inclusive education and reducing inequality in access to quality education is essential to realizing this agenda.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest levels in out-of-school and the highest levels of exclusion. Thirty-two million children of primary school age and 28 million adolescents of high school age were out of school. About the pandemic school closures, and lack of access to online learning or online learning, have exacerbated previously existing inequalities.
Millions of children already face financial, social and discriminatory barriers and were at high risk of being excluded from a quality education – especially Girls, children with disabilities, children from low-income families, and those living in areas affected by armed conflict. Adults reliance on private schools or illegal school fees and other indirect costs in public schools have long been a barrier for many children, including in countries that theoretically warranty free universal primary and secondary education.
The pandemic has further worse African socio-economic inequalities and existing gaps exposed in education, health and social protection systems, with significant impact on children’s lives. School closures across the country also contributed to one increasing child labor. Many children did not have access to distance learning.
In countries included Uganda AND Ghana, where cash assistance programs for families during the pandemic have been inadequate, many children have been forced to work exploitatively and dangerously to support their families. In many cases, the children had dropped out of school before the pandemic because they could not afford to pay school fees, or were working long and tedious hours not only to support their families but to earn money so that they could return to school.
New assessments by the International Labor Organization and UNICEF found that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of children in child labor increased by 16.6 million between 2016 and 2020, bringing the first increase in global rates in 20 years.
The African continent has the world higher levels of teenage pregnancy, and teenage pregnancies grown up during blockages in different places. Across Africa, tens of thousands of students are expelled from school because they became pregnant or are parents. Many countries have no policies for re-entry after birth or to manage teenage pregnancy in schools.
Governments that have made strong commitments in recent years to ensure that girls and pregnant mothers can attend school must deliver on the promise quickly in action. They should follow the examples of Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Sao Tome and Principe, which recently lifted bans or changed policies to ensure that pregnant students and parents can resume formal education in public schools.
African governments need to urgently adopt plans to restore the right to education for the millions of students who risk not returning to school once private schools open, as well as those aging outside of compulsory education during the pandemic. They should also ensure that primary and secondary education is completely free, guarantee quality, inclusive education for children with disabilities, strengthen public education systems, and provide adequate investment and resources for education.
The African Union should also put pressure on governments to urgently pass laws and policies that encourage girls to stay in school and stop banning pregnant girls from continuing their education and achieving academic success, Human Rights Watch said.
In response to rising poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic, governments need to provide cash assistance to families in need. Governments should ensure that schools do not receive fees or expect contributions from families and attend to children at greater risk of dropout to ensure they return to school.
All African Union countries must approve Statement of Safe Schools, an intergovernmental commitment to strengthen prevention and response to attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities during wartime. Although 30 African countries have supported the declaration – and they have been leaders in implementing its commitments over the past year, children, teachers and schools are under attack, including in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Niger.
Ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is depriving many children of education, with all sides in conflict using schools as military bases and soldiers damaging schools, destroying classrooms, and getting learning equipment, found Human Rights Watch. IN Niger, schools and students targeted by high-profile attacks and kidnappings by armed groups, including insurgent groups such as Boko Haram.
The African Union must continue its call on member states to ensure that children are safe from attacks on education and to limit the use of schools for military purposes, Human Rights Watch said.
“To achieve the AU Agenda 2040, the African Union must ensure that all African children have a good quality education and that they are safe from violence, exploitation or discrimination in any context,” Kaneza Nantulya said. “African governments need to ensure that children are at the forefront of their pandemic recovery plans, prioritizing education and urgently addressing long-standing problems in public education systems caused by a lack of legal frameworks, and policies and inadequate resources. ”
Human Rights Watch Research in African countries includes reports on obstacles in primary and secondary EDUCATION; privatization of education in Uganda; child marriage in MALAWI, South Sudan, Tanzania, and zimbabwe; sexual and gender-based violence in relation to school in Senegal; corporal punishment in Tanzania; discrimination against children with disabilities in South Africa and children with albinism in Tanzania AND MOZAMBIQUE; discrimination against pregnant students and teenage mothers; child labor in Tanzania, Ghana, and Uganda; begging and forced exploitation of children by Qur’an teachers in Senegal; the impact of lead contamination on Zambia; child soldiers and children accused of being part of terrorist groups in Niger; attacks on education and military occupation of schools; and compulsory military training of high school students in Eritrea, among others.
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