School enrolment across Southern Sudan has trebled since a 2005 peace agreement ended almost 20 years of war with the north, but the number of girls in class has remained significantly lower than for boys, a new report said.
Commissioned by the Southern Sudanese Education, Science and Technology ministry, the report on Socio-Economic and Cultural Barriers to Schooling in Southern Sudan attributed the low female enrolment to socio-cultural values, norms and practices, with economic realities superimposed on them.
"These factors exert their influence from birth, through the child-rearing practices followed by different communities, initiation and marriage, to old age," it noted. "In some communities… the girl-child is prized for the labour she provides to the family, and for the dowry she brings. This pushes up the opportunity cost of educating a girl, and exposes her to early marriage."
The report was released on 7 July by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to mark Girl’s Education Day in Southern Sudan. Only one in five children was in school during the war, it noted, but only one girl in 100 completed a full course of primary schooling. The region has the lowest school enrolment in the world.
"Southern Sudan is considered one of the regions that are seriously off-track in as far as attainment of the Millennium Development Goals is concerned as well as that of attaining universal primary completion," it said.
After the peace agreement, gross enrolment rose by about 23 percent in 2003 and by 35 percent in 2008, and is projected to rise by 55 percent in 2011.
"Following the launch of the Go-To-School initiative on 1 April 2006, enrolment has risen from the wartime estimate of 343,000 to 850,000 by December 2006, and to over 1.3 million by December 2007," the report of a study conducted between August and October 2008, stated.
The schools, however, still lack adequate facilities, including appropriate sanitary provisions for girls. In 2005, more than 80 percent of school-children had no bench to sit on and only 33 percent of schools had latrines. There is also a shortage of trained teachers.
In some communities, boys were missing school because they had to look after cattle or go fishing, noted the study, while the girls in some schools experienced sexual harassment, early pregnancy and child-to-child violence.
Children at Akobo Primary School studying under a tree on 6 July, because the school lacks enough classrooms
Photo: Erich Ogoso/IRIN
Children at Akobo Primary School, Jonglei State, studying under a tree on 6 July. The school lacks enough classrooms and hosts IDPs
Marriage a priority
A school head in Malakal, Upper Nile State, said many girls could not study to higher levels because they were expected to get married.
"Many guardians are still reluctant to let their girls go to school," Williams Gatmon, the head of Both Diu basic school, told IRIN in Malakal. "Among the Southern Sudanese, it is very important for a girl to marry and bring home the dowry."
"The girls particularly find it hard to go to higher schools," Gatmon said on 7 July.
Set up by the Southern Sudanese government in 2002, mainly to cater for returnee children, the school had 75 female students out of 500 pupils. The girls, aged eight to 20, were enrolled in all classes from four to eight.
The school teaches in English, except for a year-eight Arabic class.
The numbers were higher at Akobo town primary school in Jonglei State. The school, which has classes one to eight, had enrolled 960 girls out of 1,695 children from ages six to 20, according to the headmaster Bhan Tut.
There were two female teachers on the staff of 23. "The school has received a lot of support since the [2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement] – books and other supplies," Tut told IRIN. "The challenge is to pay the teachers on time. As we speak, we last received salaries in April."
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