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Press release

Harry Belafonte urges all countries to end school fees

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador says world needs to do more to help other nations make the transition to free universal education

© UNICEF/Pearson
Harry Belafonte visits a school in Nairobi.
NAIROBI, 18 February, 2004 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Harry Belafonte called on all developing countries today to follow Kenya’s example and permanently abolish primary school fees. Since the first week of tuition-free school in Kenya in January 2003, more than 1.3 million children have entered school for the first time, pushing national enrollment from 5.9 million to 7.2 million.

“These children and their parents know that getting an education is not only their right, but a passport to a better future – for the children and for the country,” Belafonte said today. “Kenya’s decision to abolish school fees is a shining example of just what can be achieved in the developing world by sheer political will.”

Belafonte is visiting Kenya to monitor the success of free primary education one year after school fees were abolished.  Appointed as a global goodwill ambassador in 1987, Belafonte has participated in hundreds of events and trips on behalf of UNICEF.

Before the passage of Kenya’s Free Primary Education Policy, students had to pay school fees to attend primary school. For many children, particularly those orphaned by HIV/AIDS and girls, those fees made access to education an impossibility.
When money is scarce, families are more likely to send boys to school than girls; across Africa more than half of the 45 million children currently not enrolled in primary school are girls. While missing out on an education is disastrous for any child, the fall-out for girls is particularly severe. Uneducated girls are at greater risk of HIV/AIDS, sexual exploitation and child trafficking. They are less likely to have healthy children and less likely to send their children to school.

© UNICEF/HQ04-0035/Furrer
Belafonte joins children in class, at the Kihumbuini primary school in Kangemi, a poor neighbourhood in Nairobi.
Education essential for AIDS orphans

Eliminating school fees also can make a particularly significant difference for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, Belafonte said. These children, who number 892,000 in Kenya, often fail to start school or drop out of school in order to care for ailing family members or to support themselves or their families.

“Children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS are not only just as deserving of an education as any other children, but they may need that education even more,” Belafonte said. “Being part of a school environment will prepare them for the future, while helping to remove the stigma and discrimination unfortunately associated with AIDS.”

Belafonte called on the international community to keep their commitment to help countries replace the funding lost from the elimination of school fees. He noted that bilateral funding for education in developing countries shrunk 30 percent from 1990 to 2000. In most of the African countries where school fees were removed, governments still need at least five times as much aid to basic education to achieve universal primary education by 2015, a goal established by the international community.
UNICEF estimates that there are some 121 million children out of school worldwide, the majority of them girls and millions of them affected by HIV/AIDS. Together with a network of UN agenices and NGOs, UNICEF has undertaken an aggressive, multi-faceted global campaign to accelerate progress in girls’ education, get all children into school and provide the quality education that they each deserve.

In Kenya, for example, the “Let’s Go to School” campaign is an innovative way of actively involving pupils in an effort to make sure all children in their communities go to school. In this campaign, pupils will undertake a census of children who are not going to school, discuss the reasons why, and propose ways to help them attend school.

The initiative, which will also take place in other countries and regions of the world, begins with a pilot phase in February and March culminating in a nationwide launch on the Day of the African Child, the 16th of June 2004.

Kenya’s success at abolishing school fees has been mirrored elsewhere in Africa. After Uganda abolished school fees in 1997, enrolment rose from 2.5 million that year to 6.5 million in 2000.  After fees were abolished in Tanzania in 2000, enrolment increased from 1.4 million to 3 million.

Belafonte pointed, however, to the significant challenges presented by the elimination of school fees.
In Kenya, the jump in enrolment resulted in overcrowding so severe that administrators had to defer admission at some schools for lack of standing space. In many schools, classrooms that held 40 students a year ago now cram in 70. There are not enough desks, supplies or other educational equipment. Even more scarce are trained teachers.

In addition, many students still cannot afford school because of the “unofficial” costs of such things as transportation and uniforms. UNICEF urges countries to end all such impediments to an education.

Attention Broadcasters:  B-roll on the trips will be available from Reuters TV.  UNICEF b-roll on Harry Belafonte’s 17 year long career as a UNICEF spokesman and advocate for children for UNICEF is available.  Please order on:  https://www.unicef.org/videoaudio/media_15888.html

For further information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Kenya:  Denise Shepherd-Johnson
Tel: 254 20 622977  Cell: 254 722 719867

Senegal:  Margherita Amodeo,
Tel. +221 869 5842 Cell: +221 569 19 26
Minouche Alavo on Tel. + 221 644 3322

New York: Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel: 212-326-7452,
Traveling with Harry:  Oliver Phillips,Tel: 646-338-8720




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