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

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora