SEATTLE — Having been the battleground for “Africa’s world war” from the late 1990s until recently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered from severe educational setbacks. In particular, girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to face challenges.
Achievements and Challenges
With 46 percent of the population consisting of children 14 years and younger, the Congolese government recognized that education is crucial for the political and economic future of the country and has taken steps to change the status quo. This change has resulted in an increase in the completion rate for primary level education from 29 percent in 2002 to 70 percent in 2014.
Nevertheless, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still one of the countries with the largest number of children lacking access to education. These disadvantages disproportionately affect girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when compared to boys. A Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2014 places the literacy rate at around 88 percent for males and 63 percent for females.
Due to factors such as low family incomes, poor school infrastructure and emphasis on boys’ education, the path to education is a luxury few girls can attain. Furthermore, there is a persistent danger of being targeted, raped or recruited by militias on the way to school and sometimes in the educational facilities themselves.
Education and Child Soldiers
In a recent report, Child Soldiers International found that girls who drop out of school consider joining an armed militia to be a viable alternative to having an education. After interviewing 150 former girl soldiers, 50 percent of them attributed their decision to become a child soldier to their inability to pay school fees; some girls were even persuaded to join because of promised wages.
One 15-year-old girl explained, “I was chased out of school all the time. We heard that we could get money there; I went because I wanted to get enough money to go back to school.” However, acquiring wages never entered the picture; rather, the girls were sexually, physically and psychologically abused and exploited every day.
In addition, Human Rights Watch released a report in 2015 that urged the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to endorse the international Safe Schools Declaration, which would protect children from armed conflict in educational facilities. In July 2016, the Congolese government openly endorsed and joined the Safe Schools Declaration along with 74 other countries around the globe.
Many families cannot afford to provide schooling for their daughters because of the heavy financial burden. And therefore, subsidizing the cost of school attendance can make all the difference for a girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In 2005, UNICEF aimed to provide 2.5 million children — with 50 percent of the children being girls — and 55,000 teachers with educational supplies by procuring, producing and distributing around 36,000 educational kits.
The student kits have exercise books, crayons, a ruler, a pencil sharpener, pens, an eraser and a small bag to carry the supplies, while the teacher kits contain exercise books, pens, chalk and a bag. Today, UNICEF continues to provide these kits to 233 selected schools, 118,000 students and 2,613 teachers.
With organizations such as Human Rights Watch and UNICEF, girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to make significant strides for a better and more prosperous future.
– Tracy Fu