RETURN TO HEADLINES

NIGER: Girls rue lost educations in impoverished Niger

15 Nov 2006 18:04:23 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Abdoulaye Massalatchi NIAMEY, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Like most girls in the poor West African country of Niger, 16-year-old Zalika Saley never got a proper education.

"I was expelled during the middle of primary school because I could not follow the classes any more," she said. "Because my parents were poor, I had to sell doughnuts in the evening after school. In the morning, I got up at 6 a.m. to sweep the courtyard. I never had the time to relax and study."

Saley's story is all to familiar in Niger's traditional, Muslim society. The landlocked, desert country is one of the poorest and least developed in the world -- it ranked bottom in this year's United Nations development index for the second year in a row.

According to a U.N. report published last year, in Niger, Burkina Faso and Democratic Republic of Congo fewer than two in five children benefit from primary education.

Some 60 percent of its 12.6 million people live below the poverty line.

According to a U.N. report published last year, in Niger, Burkina Faso and Democratic Republic of Congo fewer than two in five children benefit from primary education. "Ignorance and the weight of cultural and religious traditions make parents reticent to register their daughters," said teacher Dije Moussa.

"For most parents, the place of their daughter is in the home and they must remain by their mother's side to learn about domestic duties," she said. "The school is a waste of time since a woman must be maintained by her spouse, as religion specifies."

Attitudes to women here are among the most conservative on the continent.

Niger's parliament voted down Africa's Maputo Protocol on women's rights in June, in a setback for the accord which aims to guarantee women equality and to end the practice of female circumcision.

Many parents believe education can spoil their daughters.

"School is not grounded in our culture," said teacher Mariama Abdoulaye.

"Girls expelled from school are not useful to their parents; they run around in the street instead of doing some kind of paid work, for example."

Some progress has been made. Barely half the population has been to school, but at 52 percent the figure is still sharply higher than 39 percent in 1999, Niger's government says.

The country's population growth rate of 3.3 percent a year is amongst the highest in the world and that accentuates many of its development problems.

To reach the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal of universal education of both sexes by 2015, Niger would need to more than quadruple the number of school students to 2.6 million from a mere 580,000 in 2000.

That would mean hiring 3,000 teachers a year and building 3,000 school rooms every year in the primary school sector alone: an impossible challenge for the overstretched budget.

The prime minister has estimated such an expansion would cost 18 billion CFA francs ($35.3 million) a year for infrastructure alone -- almost 5 percent of the total state budget -- before teachers' salaries are added into the equation.

In May 2005, the government estimated that if this high rhythm of investment was not reached then "the rate of scholarisation risks plunging."

For girls like Saley, any change will come too late.

"Today, I am learning to sew, but I greatly regret my education."

Copyright: Reuters.com
Source: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L10809794.htm



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