News / Africa

Cameroon’s Girl-Child Education Efforts Limping

Fewer than 18 percent of girls in Cameroon's Far North Region attend schools such as Maroua Government Bi-Lingual High School. (VOA/Ntaryike Divine Jr)Fewer than 18 percent of girls in Cameroon's Far North Region attend schools such as Maroua Government Bi-Lingual High School. (VOA/Ntaryike Divine Jr)
x
Fewer than 18 percent of girls in Cameroon's Far North Region attend schools such as Maroua Government Bi-Lingual High School. (VOA/Ntaryike Divine Jr)
Fewer than 18 percent of girls in Cameroon's Far North Region attend schools such as Maroua Government Bi-Lingual High School. (VOA/Ntaryike Divine Jr)
Ntaryike Divine Jr.
Cameroon has earned steady global plaudits for its efforts over the past decade at enhancing access to quality education for its children. UNICEF, for example, ranks the country’s net primary school enrollment rate of 88 percent, among the highest in West and Central Africa.
 
However, current figures display a persisting imbalance as girls continue lagging behind boys and observers now warn the country may well veer off the Education for All target of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. 
 
According to countrywide statistics furnished by the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, between the ages of 6 and 14, only 80 percent of girls attend school compared to 94 percent of boys.
 
Yawning Gender Gap
 
Gender disparity between boys and girls varies from urban areas to the far-flung poverty-stricken hinterlands, and especially in predominantly Muslim and polygamy-friendly communities. In the Far North Region, for example, more than 98 percent of boys are enrolled school-goers, against only 69 percent of girls.
 
The situation in Cameroon mirrors the bigger picture for Sub-Saharan Africa where efforts to recruit and keep girls in school are slow because of low perceptions of the benefits of education, public perceptions that girls don’t need education, extreme poverty and the low levels of education of parents of students. 
 
Cultural expectations of young girls are a major factor. “Forty percent of girls abandon school before they reach the fourth and fifth years of primary education,” said UNICEF’s Cameroon operations chief, Daouda Guindo.  “Thirty-one percent of girls get married before the age of 15.”
 
The country’s three northern and eastern regions with the poorest girl-child school attendance rates have been targeted as priority zones in need of strategies to improve young girls’ attendance. In the Far North Region on the fringes of the Sahara Desert, the situation is particularly troubling with fewer than 17 of every 100 girls in school.
 
Unwavering Chauvinism
 
Experts blame falling girl-child attendance on several social factors that relegate African girls to cooking, cleaning and having babies.
 
Listen to report on girls' education by Divine Ntaryike
Listen to report on girls' education by Divine Ntaryikei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

“Some parents prefer to give priority to boy education with the reason that the girl will be going on marriage soon and there’s no need to invest in her.  Some parents don’t have enough resources and prefer to focus on the education of the boy,” said Plan International Cameroon’s communications adviser, Jaïre Moutcheu.
 
And that’s not all. Despite long years of campaigning against child marriages, increasing numbers of adolescent girls in Cameroon’s north and east are still being forced into marriage.  Most times, the girls don’t know who they are getting married to, and can’t choose between polygamy and monogamy. 
 
Girl-Child Bridal Tyranny
 
“Yes. It’s true,” said13-year-old Boutou Farida Mohamat, a member of Cameroon’s Children’s Parliament and a student at the Maroua Government Bi-lingual High School in the Far North Region. “They just see the man on the day of marriage. Some of them are very old. The man can even be the great grandfather. It’s so possible,” 
 
For two years, Boutou Farida has been unable to forget her friend, a victim of premature wedlock who died during childbirth. 
 
Boutou Farida Mohamat, 13, is a member of the Children's Parliament of Cameroon and a student in Far North Region.Boutou Farida Mohamat, 13, is a member of the Children's Parliament of Cameroon and a student in Far North Region.
x
Boutou Farida Mohamat, 13, is a member of the Children's Parliament of Cameroon and a student in Far North Region.
Boutou Farida Mohamat, 13, is a member of the Children's Parliament of Cameroon and a student in Far North Region.
“I had one friend, but she’s no longer alive,” she said. “Her parents arranged a marriage for her and when it was time for her to give birth, she just died and they could not even operate on her to take out the child.  She was so small.  She was 12 years old.”
 
Elsewhere, civil society activists warn that growing numbers of girls in schools across the region are being targeted by teachers and male classmates. There are also reports that some local officials such as education delegates and gendarmerie commanders sexually abuse under-age students in the belief that having sex with virgins brings wealth and power. Many such abuses go unreported by parents who feel powerless to confront the abuses.
 
Although some incidents are not reported and statistics are not available Aminatou Sali Mourbare, the co-founder of Local Action for Participatory and Self-managed Development (ADELPA), said the number of reported cases is soaring. “We have cases of girls of four years being raped.”
 
“It’s happening all around here and people are aware,” Aminatou Sali said of rape and child abuse. More women are being encouraged to report incidents of rape and other abuse, “But most cases are shielded from public notice by the silence of parents,” she said. Some parents prefer secret arrangements because they fear that their girls will be stigmatized if the public knows they have been raped.  "But such silence to me is connivance,” she argued.
 
Lifting the barriers
 
The government works alongside UNICEF, Plan International and others to boost girl-child school attendance: building parent awareness, providing private toilet facilities, offering free textbooks and scholarships to girls, for example. However, dropout rates for girls are only timidly paying off.
 
“It’s not yet 100 percent, but we’re improving,” said Women’s Empowerment Minister Marie Therese Abena. “And it’s you, your brother, sister, grandmother who still believe in female genital mutilation; your grandfather who still believes in sending a girl to marry before the age of 15.

"So each one of us has to do his own share of the work so that we can see the girl-child evolve in our society and contribute.” 
 
Commemorating the second edition of the International Day of the Girl Child last October 11 under the theme Innovating for Girls’ Education, advocates agreed that educating more girls and women would increase the quantity and quality of human resources needed to drive forward the country’s development. Women comprise the majority of Cameroon’s over 20 million inhabitants but remain far under-represented in the country’s decision-making institutions.
 
Efforts by the government of Japan, UNICEF and the Cameroon government promote construction of hundreds of “girl-child friendly” primary schools, especially in areas with lowest girl enrollment by offering meals to improve girls attendance and increase support for grassroots women’s advocacy groups promoting girl-child education.  Hopefully, experts conclude, such interventions will help bridge the education gaps between Cameroon’s boys and girls in the near future.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs