On International Children’s Day, let us remember that this year children are paying too high a price.
As children in the global north have headed back to school, teachers across Asia, Africa and Latin America say many girls in their classes are struggling to return due to increases in early marriage, pregnancy and unpaid care work during Covid-19 lockdowns.
ActionAid surveyed 130 teachers from 14 countries (*) who work in communities where livelihoods have been lost during the pandemic and where girls are being hardest hit by school closures. Teachers said most of their schools have been closed since March.
The survey provides a snapshot of teachers’ concerns for a generation of school children:
- Around three in five teachers surveyed say a higher drop-out rate for girls (59%) and poorer children (62%) will be a long-term impact of the pandemic.
- Nearly half are concerned about increases in early pregnancy (41%) and early marriage (45%) due to the Covid-19 crisis. Over a third (35%) are worried about rising hunger.
- Teachers say some of the biggest issues preventing girls from returning to school are parents unable to afford the cost (62%), unpaid care work (59%), child labour (51%) and early marriage (52%).
- Most schools (81%) made some provision for distance learning, but 76% of teachers said that less than half of their pupils were able to keep up with their lessons.
Husein Goohe, a headteacher at a school in Gabiley district, Somaliland, said just 13 pupils – all of them boys – returned to his school after it reopened in July, down from 119 before Covid-19. He said all 50 girls at the school were unable to return, mainly due to early marriage affecting children as young as 12.
“I felt desperate when I saw the majority of the pupils not returning to school to continue their learning and invest in the future of the community,” he says. “The future of the children will be darker. I fear they will work in casual labour as their parents do and will struggle to survive.”
ActionAid’s Call to Action on sustainable financing for education post-Covid, supported by 190 organisations, including Save the Children, Oxfam and the Malala Fund, sets out 10 steps to transform education and to make the pandemic a turning point to increase equality and inclusion.
Children’s education should be our first priority and governments must ensure that their rights are respected during this pandemic.
(*) In August 2020, ActionAid surveyed 130 teachers working in 82 schools in Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somaliland and Zimbabwe.