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During Global Education Action Week, don't forget the girls

UNICEF draws attention to high proportion of girls denied schooling

NEW YORK, 20 April 2004 – During the Global Campaign for Education’s Action Week, UNICEF is calling for increased attention to the disproportionate number of girls who are denied their right to an education. Of the 121 million children out of school, more than half are girls.

Today, as part of a week of activities under the theme “The World’s Biggest Ever Lobby,” thousands of children worldwide are taking part in the “National Lobby,” making a personal plea to their governments to get more children into school.

UNICEF said these children must be heard and that any country taking education seriously must make girls’ education a priority, particularly as the world nears the 2005 goal to get as many girls as boys into school. 

“As long as millions of girls are denied a basic education, we stand little chance of improving the lives of the world’s poorest people,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “Education is not only the key to a young girl's personal fulfillment, but it is essential for reducing poverty, stopping HIV/AIDS, and achieving all other development goals.” 

During the past two years, UNICEF’s key education initiative, 25 by 2005, has made a concerted effort to maximize the enrolment of girls in 25 countries where the situation is most critical, by the year 2005. In these countries, UNICEF is working closely with national governments and a wide range of partners to rapidly reduce the number of out-of-school girls.

The gender gap in enrolment is most pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa, where 24 million girls were out of school in 2002, and in South Asia, where 23.5 million girls are denied schooling. Eighty-three percent of all girls out of school live in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific.

UNICEF country offices throughout the world are supporting a variety of actions during Education Action Week. For example:

  • In Afghanistan, children, parents, and religious leaders will participate in a round-table on girls’ education with the Deputy Minister of Education. While there are more children in school than ever before in Afghanistan’s history, and girls’ enrolment has leapt dramatically since 2002, an estimated 1.5 girls of primary school age are still denied an education. 
  • In Zambia, children who were given cameras and asked to capture reasons why children are not in school will display their pictures at a UNICEF-supported photo exhibition, organized by the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Zambia.
  • School children in Benin will draw maps of their villages, neighborhoods or communities to identify families whose children don’t go to school. For their National Lobby more than 500 children from throughout the country will travel to the General Assembly to advocate on behalf of children excluded from education. 
  •  In Pakistan, where almost 5 million girls are missing out on a basic education, 3,000 children will gather in Islamabad for a “Big Walk” to Parliament. During Action Week, delegations of children will ask their government to do more for education in visits with the President, Prime Minister and Chairman of the Senate.

Why girls?

UNICEF focuses strategically on protecting the right of girls to an education since they are systematically denied an education and generally face higher barriers than boys to get into and stay in school.

Girls’ education brings with it a multitude of benefits that begin with the girl herself and extend to her family, community and ultimately to her country. Educating girls is the most effective tool to reduce infant and maternal mortality and to combat HIV/AIDS, child trafficking and exploitation. And by making schools more inviting for girls, classrooms become better learning places for both girls and boys.

“The benefits of educating girls are both immediate and long-lasting,” Bellamy said. “Developing countries would be hard put to find an investment that would bring a better return.”

About 25 by 2005:

UNICEF’s 25 by 2005 campaign is a major initiative to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education in 25 countries by the year 2005. The campaign, which includes 13 countries in Africa and six countries in South Asia, focuses on districts where girls’ education is in a critical situation and urgent help is required to meet the Millennium Development Goal of gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005.

In each country, UNICEF is working with the government to mobilise new resources, build broad national consensus about the need to get girls into school, and help improve schools themselves to make them more welcoming to both girls and boys.

For further information please contact:
Allison Hickling, UNICEF Media, New York :
(+1-212) 326-7224, ahickling@unicef.org


For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 158 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.  




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