AFRICA/ZIMBABWE - Thousands of girls forced to leave school

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Harare (Agenzia Fides) - Poverty, abuses, cultural traditions prevent one third of girls to attend school in Zimbabwe, denying them a basic education. According to a recent study carried out by Plan International, an NGO committed against child poverty, harassment and even sexual abuse by teachers and parents, cultural difficulties, lack of school fees, marriages and early pregnancies, the parents commitments, are some of the factors that contribute to school dropout on behalf of girls.
The study, titled "Because I am a Girl," the long distances that children in rural areas must travel to get to school, and the great burden of children who often, after the death of parents, must take the responsibility of their family, are other factors that contribute to raising the school dropout rate. Because of a government program of forced eviction in 2005, known as "Operation Murambatsvina", about 700 thousand people from urban areas across the country have been forcibly evicted, compounding the difficulties of access to education for girls of the families involved.
In the 2011 report ''Left Behind: The Impact of Zimbabwe's Forced Evictions on the Right to Education'', Amnesty International documents how the evictions have stopped about 222 000 children attending school. During Operation Murambatsvina many families were evicted by force from rural areas and temporary camps with no facilities for education and, in some areas, school buildings were actually destroyed. Due to the suspension of supply of many livelihoods, families can no longer afford to pay school fees.
Amnesty International's report shows that many girls from Hopley, an illegal settlement, prostitute themselves with older or married men, after being driven from their homes after the government did not do anything to re-enroll them in school. Operation Murambatsvina inflicted a severe blow on the right to education for those affected, who were already among the most needy and disadvantaged in Zimbabwe.
The country's education system, once considered a model for other African countries, has steadily decreased over the past ten years due to economic crisis. In many schools textbooks and teaching materials are lacking. In 2009 the Government, in collaboration with other humanitarian agencies and the United Nations, promoted the Education Transition Fund to counter the shortage of teaching materials in schools. A second phase of the program has just been launched and will focus on access to an equitable and good quality education for all children, in particular by responding to students' gender disparities in secondary schools, and offering to those who do not attend school a second chance. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 08/11/2011)