Africa: Prioritizing education to safeguard children’s rights – Burkina Faso

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Guarantee free education for all; Tackle Abuse

(Nairobi) – African governments across the continent should step up efforts and provide adequate funding to ensure that all children can exercise their right to education, Human Rights Watch said today on the Day of the African Child of the African Union.

Despite significant progress over the past decades to ensure broad ratification and implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, many African children are denied their basic right to education. This includes tens of thousands of girls facing discriminatory barriers due to pregnancy, parenthood or child marriage. Children in at least 18 African countries are affected by attacks on education and the military use of their schools.

“Children across Africa face many abuses and interconnected obstacles to their right to education every day,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Africa Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch. “Millions of children have been excluded or lagged behind in their learning during the pandemic, and the economic impact has forced many of them to undertake often dangerous and exhausting jobs, forcing them to drop out of school. ”

the Theme African Union 2021 focuses on accelerating the implementation of its Agenda 2040, which outlines the AU’s commitments to ensure progress for children and youth. Guaranteeing the right to free, quality and inclusive education, and reducing inequalities in access to quality education is essential to carry out this program.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Sub-Saharan Africa had the highest out-of-school rates and exclusion rates in the world. Thirty-two million children of primary school age and 28 million adolescents of secondary school age were out of school. Linked to the pandemic school closures, and the lack of access to distance learning offline or online, have exacerbated pre-existing inequalities.

Millions of children already faced financial, social and discriminatory barriers and were at high risk of being excluded from quality education, especially girls, Disabled children, the children of low income households, and those living in areas affected by armed conflict. The increase use of private schools or illegally collected tuition and other indirect costs in public schools have long been a barrier for many children, including in countries that theoretically guarantee universal and free primary and secondary education.

The pandemic has yet exacerbated Africa’s socio-economic inequalities and existing gaps in education, health and social protection systems, with significant impact on children’s lives. Nationwide school closures have also contributed to increase in child labor. Many children did not have access to distance learning.

In countries where Uganda and Ghana, where cash assistance programs for families during the pandemic were insufficient, many children were forced into exploitative and hazardous child labor to support their families. In many cases, children had already dropped out of school before the pandemic because they couldn’t afford to pay the tuition, or worked long, grueling hours not only to support their families, but also to earn money so they could go back to school.

New estimates by the International Labor Organization and UNICEF found that in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of child laborers increased by 16.6 million between 2016 and 2020, leading to the first increase in global rates in 20 years.

The African continent has the world highest teenage pregnancy rate, and teenage pregnancies increases during lockdowns in various countries. Across Africa, tens of thousands of students are excluded from school because they have become pregnant or are parents. Many countries have no policies for reintegration after childbirth or to manage teenage pregnancy in schools.

Governments that have made strong commitments in recent years to ensure girls and pregnant mothers can attend school should quickly deliver on the pledge in action. They should follow the examples of Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Sao Tome and Principe, which recently removed bans or changed policies to ensure pregnant students and parents can resume formal education in public schools.

African governments should urgently adopt plans to restore the right to education for millions of students who are at risk of not returning to school once schools reopen for in-person instruction, as well as those who passed compulsory school during the pandemic. They should also ensure that primary and secondary education is completely free, ensure inclusive and quality education for children with disabilities, strengthen public education systems and ensure adequate investments and resources for education.

The African Union should also pressure governments to urgently adopt laws and policies that encourage girls to stay in school and stop banning pregnant girls from continuing their education and to successfully complete their studies, Human Rights Watch said.

In response to increasing poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic, governments should provide cash allowances to families in need. Governments should ensure that schools do not charge any fees or expect contributions from families, and monitor children most at risk of dropping out to ensure they return to school.

All African Union countries should endorse the Safe Schools Statement, an intergovernmental commitment to strengthen the prevention and response to attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities in times of war. Although 30 African countries have endorsed the declaration – and have been leaders in the implementation of its commitments over the past year, children, teachers and schools have been attacked, including in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.

The ongoing fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is depriving many children of an education, all parties to the conflict using schools as military bases, and soldiers damaging schools, destroying classrooms, and carrying learning materials, Human Rights Watch found. In Nigeria, schools and schoolchildren targeted in high profile attacks and kidnappings by armed groups, including insurgent groups like Boko Haram.

The African Union must continue to call on member states to ensure children are safe from attacks on education and to restrict the use of schools for military purposes, Human Rights Watch said.

“To achieve the AU’s Agenda 2040, the African Union must ensure that all African children have access to a good quality education and that they are free from violence, exploitation or discrimination in any context, ”Kaneza Nantulya said. “African governments should ensure that children are at the forefront of their recovery plans in the event of a pandemic, prioritizing education and urgently addressing long-standing problems in health systems. public education caused by the lack of legal frameworks and inadequate policies and resources. ”

More information
Human Rights Watch research in African countries includes elementary and secondary barrier reports education; privatization of education in Uganda; child marriage in Malawi, South sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe; sexual and gender-based violence in schools 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; forced begging and exploitation of children by Koranic teachers in Senegal; the impact of lead contamination in Zambia; child soldiers and children accused of being part of terrorist groups in Nigeria; attacks on education and the military occupation of schools; and forced military training of high school students in Eritrea, among others.



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