African Kids Need Legislation to Support Their Education

Children around the world are surviving, which is an achievement in itself, but it's not enough, says a World Policy Analysis Center report. In order to thrive, they need their national governments to pass laws that make them more likely to finish school. Jennifer Lazuta of VOA News explains that this is especially true in Africa.

The WPAC, a data center at the University of California, looked at information for 193 countries over a period of 7 years. Jody Heymann, the lead author and study director, explained their focus away from survival.

"Certainly, there is no more fundamental goal than child survival. But for any of us – in our own families, communities, neighborhoods – we wouldn't be satisfied with child survival being enough. So what would a reasonable goal mean? I think an equal chance at healthy development during childhood and an equal chance for a full and productive adulthood that follows it," said Heymann.

Heymann stressed that the two keys to making this happen is to block ways that children's lives can be squandered on lower, more immediate goals, and to increase tax funding for secondary education. While these two things are true everywhere, the need is greatest in Africa, where grinding poverty can make the future hard to see. A few days ago, Lazuta wrote in VOA News about an alarming trend in Liberia, where teenage boys are quitting school in huge numbers to work in diamond mines. Family poverty makes them feel that they have no other rational choice, and the government is not enforcing labor laws. In many African countries, labor laws don't exist at all.

Girls are most likely to leave school to get married, pushed by their families. When they marry as young as 13 or 14, not only will they never complete an education, they will also probably suffer health problems from bearing children too young.

Heymann said the data shows that once countries implement and enact measures, such as a minimum age for marriage, major transformations can be seen on the overall welfare of children within the course of just a few years.

By setting minimum age limits for such transitions into adulthood, governments can limit family choices and make it more likely that kids will stay in school. The WPAC study also calls for greater subsidies for high school, since many African kids drop out at that point. Heymann acknowledged that this fact, in itself, shows a tremendous achievement for the poorest nations. It wasn't long ago that primary school was too expensive for most families.

"With the Millennium Development Goals, there was a great commitment to primary education, and in fact, there's been incredibly important progress. Right now, only eight countries remain that charge any tuition for primary. Because there's practically no tuition charge, children around the world, regardless of whether their families are living in poverty or not, get to attend primary school," said Heymann.

The study also calls for greater access for disabled children in developing countries. Disabled children are rarely able to go to school, so they are unable to find good paying work and remain in poverty. Where governments can legislate improvements, Heymann believes they should.

The African Union has endorsed the study's findings, saying that they agree with its priorities and hope their member states will work on these problems. The AU's head of Social Welfare said that they will look to see "good, child-friendly budgeting" in their association.

02 14, 2013
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