Girl Child Education and COVID-19

Child’s education is a Human Right guaranteed and recognized by the legal instruments such as The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 11 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). It is clear that in our African societies, due to challenges such as extreme poverty, armed conflict, beliefs and customs, many girls’ children are deprived of their right to education. While the economic, social and political empowerment of women advocated by international conventions and national gender-sensitive policies cannot be effective without education, the schooling of the girl child and especially her retention in school.

The first COVID-19 case started early February 2020 in Egypt and spread to the African continent, accentuating the weight of the difficulties that the education of the girl child was already undergoing. COVID-19 has led to the closure of schools, the institution that is tasked with the burden on impacting education on children, which undoubtedly rhymes with the inflation of early school dropouts for young girls. The reasons for these abandonments are multiple and multifaceted. In traditional families, schools have acted as a safe space for the girl child to dodge challenges such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Marriage. With many African countries implementing the School Food Program, schools have also the played the role of ensuring food security of the students, which is almost impossible to achieve now as many African countries have not been able to roll-out any feeding programs during this period.

The introduction of online classes by individual states is quite a great move. It is a fact that we have to consider that African countries are not better placed to implement such initiatives. Before the access to the online classes, one needs access to stable internet and electricity. But the reality is, we have countries such as Malawi, that experience blackout for even three days, talk less of stable internet. COVID-19 has hit hard, bringing the realization that it is not enough to propose solutions, and it is also necessary to put in it the adequate means to support the effectiveness of the proposals.

With the gap of online classes, parents/guardians are tasked with ensuring that the girl child is always abreast with her education by regular monitoring of activities that they engage in so that the end of this pandemic cannot rhyme with early and forced marriages, early pregnancies, the lowering of the level of education and the total dropout of the girl child.

Is it time to burden the girl child with housework or charge her with income-generating activities, preventing her from finding time to devote herself to her studies? Education and nurturing of the girl child should not be the sole prerogative of the teacher. This noble responsibility, however great, lies with the parents/guardians, the community, religious institutions and the media. This COVID-19 period should not be the time to discourage the girl child from taking an interest in her studies or their talents. Parents/Guardians must play their role, which is to ensure that the girl can always keep this joy and enthusiasm she had of school attendance and completion after this COVID-19 crisis.

This period of a pandemic must not, in any case, slow down or even constitute obstacles for keeping the girl in school. Because investing in the education of the girl child is laying the solid foundations for prosperous humanity and just and equitable society.

Let us give young girls and boys equal educational opportunities. No sustainable development can be achieved without an educated woman.

Eude KALTANI bokossa

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