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The Attitudes of Parents and Government on Girl-Child Education in South Sudan


By Daniel Athior’o Atem, Juba, South Sudan

  1. Introduction

The war between Southern NOW South Sudan and Sudan took a severe toll on the former’s infrastructure and systems. The signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was quite a milestone achieved and paved the way for later independence of South Sudan on 9th July 2011. Since then, government has tirelessly worked towards achieving education for all its children.

Various programs and policies have been formulated. The Alternative Education Systems (AES) was formalized in 2002 under the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Secretariat of Education (SoE) and confirmed by the CPA (2005) to provide education to out of school children, youth and adults including organizedarmed forces. Since then the AES Directorate has expanded its education programmes to provide multiple pathways towards achieving literate and educated members of society.

There are six AES programmes: Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP), Community Girl Schools (CGS), Pastoralist Education Programme (PEP), Basic Adult Literacy Programme (BALP), Intensive English Courses (IEC), and South Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction (SSIRI). However, statistics on girl child education are worrying in South Sudan.

Only one girl in ten completes primary education, and girls constitute 33% of the entire secondary school population according to UNICEF. Government and development partners find it hard to change perceptions about girl child education in patriarchal communities of South Sudan.

2. Problem Statement

World over, educating girls has been hailed to significantly contribute to development. Developing countries especially in Africa have also embraced investment in girl child education despite negative attitudes from many communities. In South Sudan patriarchal society, it is hard to change the negative perceptions of parents on girl child education. Communities have for a long time believed that the girl child is not worth educating.

Girls are confined to doing household work as they ready for marriage. This probably explains why the country ranks least on global education indicators. According to the World Bank only 16% of the female population is literate, compared to the 40% for male. There are more female teenagers dying in childbirth or pregnancy related complications than those completing primary level education in South Sudan. 

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The few parents who send their daughters to school later drop them out for marriage denying girls a right to complete the education cycle. It is therefore important to change the perception of communities on girl child education in South Sudan.

3. Parents Attitudes towards girl Child Education

In South Sudan, it is a tradition to marry off girls as early as thirteen years. Parents look at their daughters as a source of wealth. They have more hope in the dowry (in most cases cattle) than in education. In fact, many communities believe that their daughters will get pregnant from school and they miss out on bride price. As such they decide to keep their daughters out of school until marriage

However, parents forget that child marriages only bury their daughters in a pit of problems. For example, according to WHO, South Sudan has some of the worst health outcome indicators globally. Maternal mortality ratio stands at 789 per 100,000 live births, whereas neonatal and under-five mortality rates are 39.3 and 99.2, per 1000 live births respectively. 

The few parents with a positive attitude towards girl child education have also been weighed down by the high levels of un-adjusted poverty. Because they cannot afford school fees for their daughters, some parents easily fall back to the long-time custom of marrying off their daughters.

Much as the Constitution emphasizes free basic education, it is not the case in South Sudan. Many parents cannot afford taking their children to school and the first decision will be to get girls out. 

In some communities, parents favour boys to go to school because they are treated as the heirs. Parents do not want to invest in a girl child who will tomorrow move to a different new family after marriage. They believe that girl child only takes away family wealth while the boy brings and keeps wealth within the family. The boy child is seen as one who will pass on the father’s generation and expand the clan. It is therefore important to break such perceptions with sensitization. 

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4. The Conclusion

Girl child education will remain a myth in South Sudan as long as we still hold on to our cultural perceptions. It is very possible for culture to be preserved while at the same time educating our girls. In fact, the consequences of illiteracy erode our culture even more.

For example, the thousands of girls lost through child birth deprive this nation of its mothers and yet we know mothers are a strong pillar in our cultural development. Educating more girls means that the country will have a healthy, productive, human rights sensitive population. It also guarantees better education for our children tomorrow. 

5. Solution and Way Forward

Achieving girl child education requires an integrated approach involving the parents, communities, government, and development partners. 

Parents should treat their children equally without bias especially when it comes to making education decisions. Both boys and girls should be taken to school and supported to complete the education cycle. An educated child whether girl or boy will make better decisions on health, education, and work all of which benefit their parents, families, communities and the nation at large.

Community leaders should sensitize households on the benefits of educating a girl child. These leaders should first of all be exemplary by educating their own girl children and marrying them off at the right age after education. And as well mobilizing educated women in the community to talk to community members as a way of motivating parents to educate the girl child. 

Government should formulate a national policy on girl child education. The key focus should be sensitization so as to break the cultural barriers. Child marriage should also be criminalized for both the parents who marry of their children and the men who marry these girls. Government should ensure affordable education especially for girls or even give out scholarships.

Development partners including donors and NGOs should intensify efforts towards sensitizing masses on the value of girl child education. NGOs can consider giving more education opportunities to girls through awarding scholarships, subsidies and helping out parents who cannot but scholastic materials.

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They can also come up with programs that boost household income such as agricultural training, saving and lensing schemes, small business support so that parents can afford educating all their children. 

The author, Daniel Athior’o Atem, was the World Bank Blog4Dev2019 Winner for South Sudan|| A Member of the Youth Transforming Africa||Mandela Scholar, and can be reach via email; Check new article every Monday.

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