|© UNICEF video|
|UNICEF is working with the Indian government and other international and non-governmental organizations to help provide quality education for all girls.|
By Sabine Dolan
New York, 4 April 2005 – The state of Bihar, India's poorest, is home to nearly 90 million people. Half of them live in conditions of extreme poverty. Key development indicators, such as those related to public health or literacy, are among the lowest in the nation. As in much of the world, it is the children who suffer most from poverty. Thousands live on the streets of the capital, Patna.
Twelve-year-old Halima is one of them. She has been living on the streets for nearly a year and her existence is best described as marginal. “My village is somewhere on the Bengal border and I travelled to many places by hiding on trains. I don't steal from people, but we find things the passengers leave behind and sell them for food.”
Halima's travelling days came to an end two weeks ago when workers from a child protection organization met her at a railway station, where she had been living. She was brought to a dormitory in the capital, where she is now staying along with dozens of other vulnerable children. The children are provided with clothes and food, and they are also given an education and skills training.
Halima is happy to study. “I'm learning to read and write and also to sew. These are important skills that I never had and I think they will help me lead a better life.”
Thousands of girls attending school for the first time
Girls’ education is now a state priority in Bihar, owning in part to efforts by the Indian government, international agencies and local non-governmental organizations. Quality education for all girls is a basic right, and UNICEF is working to ensure it remains high on the agenda.
Female literacy in India today is still considerably lower than male literacy, but the situation is improving: the rate of female literacy rose from 34 per cent in 1990 to 45 per cent in 2000.
In Bihar's rural villages, a programme is encouraging parents to educate daughters along with their sons. As a result, thousands of girls are now attending school for the first time, in informal settings organized by village women. This is just one of several girls’ education programmes in the state, but much more needs to be done to realize the right of a quality education for all.
4 April 2005: Girls’ education in India – a video report by Jonathan Silvers
Progress for Children