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Girl children better off than boys

Agnes is young girl of 14, who lives in the capital Maseru with her mother who is a domestic worker earning about US $20 a month.

But Agnes is fortunate. She goes to school, and has hopes of becoming a teacher one day. She says that without her older and younger brothers working back home in the rural areas she might never have been able to get an education.

Her brothers are herd boys, and through the money or livestock they receive at the end of each year, they help Agnes' parents pay her school fees. She says that she doesn't know what will become of her brothers when they are to old to remain herd boys.

"They can't even read or write. How will they find work here in Lesotho? Jobs are really difficult and people want somebody who can read and write. I guess they will have to go to the mines in South Africa, but we have heard stories from the men coming back, they don't want foreigners there anymore. They only want to give work to their own."

Mette Larsen of UNICEF told IRIN that within Lesotho households, unlike most other developing countries, girl children are actually better off than boys. Girls have traditionally been the educated ones.

"Traditionally boys have been sent off by their families to be herd boys as soon as they are old enough. The girls stay behind and receive most of the attention from their parents. Whatever the boys earn either gets used to educate the girls or used to run the household," Larsen explained.

She told IRIN that most of these boys were paid at the end of the year in the form of livestock, and with the increasing problem of livestock theft by desperate unemployed people, these young boys sometimes worked for up to two years without receiving any payment.

Larsen said the situation for boys was becoming increasingly difficult as many of the older men who used to work as migrant labourers on the mines in South Africa have been retrenched. This has meant that one vital source of income for families has been lost. It has not only forced women to find alternative sources of income, but has also increased the pressure on
young men in the countryside to enter the formal labour market.

When these boys do find their way to the cities they either have to settle for extremely low-paying positions or, when they cannot find any work, make do with living on the streets.

"This kind of life is totally alien to these boys, they really don't know what city life is all about," Larsen said. Although there have been attempts to set up weekend or night classes to offer rudimentary schooling, "it is still very difficult because the boys are in such remote areas, and we then have to convince the parents about the benefits for the boys."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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