By Nsunjo Erica
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) head Audrey Azoulay said it estimates that 11 million girls will be unable to go back to school around the world after COVID-19.
“We worry that in many countries the closure of schools has unfortunately led to losses,” Azoulay said as she visited a high school in the Congo capital Kinshasa, three days after the country’s 2020-21 school year began.
Accordingly, “we have launched an awareness campaign on the need for schools to go back to school,” the former French culture minister said.
According to Audrey Azoulay, education “unfortunately remains very unequal” for girls, she noted that their access to schooling is a priority for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Congolese Education Minister Willy Bakonga urged Audrey Azoulay to support the country’s program of free public primary education launched by President Felix Tshisekedi in September last year.
He said the program had allowed more than four million children to join or rejoin the education system in the poor but mineral-rich Central African country.
UNESCO Director-General promised to support Congo in her free public primary education in the “massive effort that must be made for the quality of teaching” which is aimed at urging girls to pursue their schooling “as long as possible.
Experts estimate the annual cost of free primary education at $2.64 billion, a colossal sum for the Democratic Republic of Congo. The World Bank has pledged $800 million to help pay for education in sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest nation, where 73 percent of the population live in extreme poverty.
Previously, reports released showed that COVID-19 has increased to the rate at which poor families worldwide are sending off their young girls into marriage following the financial burdens caused by the pandemic.
Dr. S. Diwakar, the district child protection officer for Mysuru in Karnataka in India said his district reported 123 cases of early marriages between mid-March and July, compared to around 75 for the same period last year.
Reports have also indicated that in Malawi, 42% of girls are married before 18, and with the outbreak of the pandemic, many parents lost their jobs and this has escalated the situation following the financial hardships.
Government reports in countries like Kenya have also reported an increase in teen pregnancies following the closure of schools that set children free to loiter around. Early pregnancy is another reason as to why parents are forcing their young girls into marriage.
More than 40% of girls in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Tanzania said that the pandemic has pushed their families into deeper poverty and at some point, the easiest resolution is to marry them off.