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Girl-Child Education and its Impact on National Development in South Sudan

South Sudan NEWS PORTAL

By Daniel Athior’o Atem, Juba, South Sudan

Monday, June 29, 2020 (PW) — Gender is a key aspect of achieving national development. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality by 2030. Achieving gender equity is also linked to the success of other SDGs such as education, growth, health, social and economic rights. Girl child education is important to achieving sustainable development especially in developing countries like South Sudan. However, in this war-torn country, girl child education in some communities seems like a privilege while in others a taboo. 

The many years of conflict have caused serious destruction to South Sudan’s infrastructure and social systems displaced over six (6) million people and denied many children the right to education. The 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and consequent gaining of independence on 9th July 2011 brought some ray of hope. Education has been earmarked as a key sector in South Sudan’s development plan.

The government has put in place a policy framework to increase school enrollment and keep more girls in school. 2008 Child Act and Transitional Constitution provide for the right to free and compulsory primary education. The Child Act also explicitly states that no girl can be expelled from school due to pregnancy and that young mothers must be allowed to continue their education.

South Sudan has an Alternative Education System that offers people who have not had access to formal education, including pregnant girls and mothers, the opportunity to go to school. In 2011, close to 70,000 girls and women went to school under this programme.

However, not much has been achieved especially about girl child education. According to UNICEF, over 70% of children in South Sudan are out of school and the largest fraction of these is girls. Poverty, child marriage and cultural and religious views all hinder girls’ education.

Reasons for Low Girl Education in South Sudan 

Although there are number factors explaining the trend of girl child education, In South Sudan early marriages, cultural practices and socio-economic status of family rank highest. 

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Marrying off young girls is a long-held tradition in South Sudan which deprives them the right to complete the education cycle. Early marriage is closely linked to the other two factors that are, socio-economic status and cultural practices.

Faced with financial hardships, parents always look at marrying off their young daughters in exchange for a dowries A 2018 survey by UNICEF reveals that 52% of girls in South Sudan get into marriage before hitting the 18th birthday and the country ranks 7th globally with the highest child marriage prevalence.

Once girls marry at an early age, they hardly have any knowledge of family planning and the only thing to do is giving birth, giving birth and giving birth. Health complications are also high at this stage putting a strain on the health system. 

Therefore, child marriages are a development trap because they keep communities in the cycle of an identified poverty.

Much as many NGOs have continued to sensitize communities on the good in educating girls, cultural attitudes towards girl child education are still negative. Many communities do not attach any value to educating a girl child and so confine their daughters to household chores and farming. In some communities, parents believe only marriage, not education can bring them respect.   

The unending conflict has also condemned the majority of South Sudanese to poverty. As a result, many parents give education priority to their sons. The girls are restricted to household work until that time when they are married. The UN estimates show that at least 80% of the population is income-poor living below US$1 per day. Such a level of poverty greatly limits the extent to which education can be improved.

Some parents also think that their daughters will get pregnant while at school, so it is better they stay out of school. The high level of poverty also undermines government efforts to invest in key sectors like education. Millions of dollars are allocated to defense at the expense of education and health which have the potential to turn around the economy in terms of development. 

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Girl Child Education and National Development

Education plays a huge role in improving the well-being of households, communities and the nation at large. However, educating a girl child is a strategic development priority that South Sudan should take.

In fact, scholars have gone to say that when you educate a man you educate an individual for individual BUT when you educate a woman you educate a nation. An educated woman can make better decisions regardinghealth, educating her children, marriage and employment.

Many of South Sudan’s challenges including child marriages, unemployment and poverty will be addressed if more women go to school and complete the education cycle. Educating a girl child breaks the cultural attitudes and practices such as polygamy that are keeping many communities in unchangeable poverty.

Therefore, when a girl is denied the opportunity to go to school, it does not only hurt that girl but the repercussions will be long-lasting and far-reaching for their children and communities. 

Recommendations

Peace and security are the bedrock for any development program. Girl child education can never be realized with the ongoing friction between politicians in South Sudan. It is urgent that the government fully reconciles with its opponents so that the country embarks on development priorities like educating our girls. 

Much as there is a good policy framework on girl child education in South Sudan government should ensure that what is on paper is implemented. Parents, local leaders and communities should be sensitized on the benefits of educating their daughters since many are still trapped in their negative attitudes.

Government policy cannot be effective in a country where over half the population languishes in abject poverty. The government should design subsidy programs for girls to helpparents who struggle with school fees and other basic educational challenges.

Civil society organizations both local and international should intensify sensitization and mobilization on girl child education. Where possible they should help in financing education for girls in marginalized households. NGOs can also identify successful educated women and let them motivate young girls in schools through workshops and mentorship programs. Sensitizing communities can break cultural barriers to girl child education.

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There is a handful of South Sudanese girls and women who have received education from outside South Sudan. They should come home and take part in the development programs of the government. They will also motivate more young girls into enrolling and staying in school.

The author, Daniel Athior’o Atem, was a World Bank Blog4Dev2019 Winner for South Sudan|| Member, Youth Transforming Africa||Mandela Scholar. You can reached him via his email: atemathior@gmail.com. Check new article every week.

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