|© UNICEF India/2004/Shanmugam|
|India's Cricket Captain Saurav Ganguly with Nirja and Neelam|
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By Ziad Sheikh
COLOMBO, 21 July 2004 -- The Indian cricket team secured their place in phase two of the Asia Cup at the weekend, the regional tournament promoting UNICEF’s Fair Play for Girls education campaign through a new partnership with the Asian Cricket Council.
Bangladesh and Pakistan, two other key countries in the region in UNICEF’s efforts for girls’ education, also go through to the decisive rounds, as does the host nation Sri Lanka.
But the Indian cricketers’ preparations for the tournament this year were a little different. The team was at a training camp in Chennai in July when two young girls from the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh travelled the length of the country to Tamil Nadu to talk about the importance of education in their lives and to share their aspirations with members of India’s national team.
Twelve-year-old Neelam Bharti and thirteen-year-old Nirja Kumari come from Godwa village in the district of Lucknow, an area that is cut off for much of the year due to flooding.
India’s team captain Saurav Ganguly and his fellow cricketers took time out of their training to hear what these girls had to say and show their support for girls’ education in India and throughout South Asia.
The female literacy rate in the area where Neelam and Nirja are from is just 19 per cent, the lowest in the state and the teacher-pupil ratio is 1:70, compared to the national norm of 1:40.
Nirja’s elder sister married early and dropped out of school but Nirja is determined to avoid this fate and continue with her studies. She hopes to become a doctor.
Neelam left school because she found it boring. She now is back studying and wants to continue learning. “One day.” Neelam said, “I will be a teacher in my district and ensure that no one drops out of school.”
The Government of Uttar Pradesh and UNICEF support a one-year schooling programme to provide quality primary education to adolescent girls who missed the opportunity to go to school at the right age. Ninety per cent of the girls who complete this course continue in school.
The number of girls who are not in school in South Asia is a major obstacle to the region’s development. Of the 46 million children not in school, about sixty per cent are girls.
The Fair Play for Girls regional campaign is about getting all children into school. Because there are more girls out of school than boys, and due to the multiple benefits that educating girls brings, the campaign is focused on them.
The Indian cricket team has been a strong, active partner in the cause for children’s rights. Given the huge appeal and popularity of cricket in the region, their support for the campaign will be invaluable.
“Educating girls is important not just in India but all over the world,” said Saurav Ganguly, India’s captain. “We will help in whatever way we can.”