— Officials in Yambio county in South Sudan said Monday they are pushing to take their "Send all Girl Children to School" program nationwide after a local campaign to keep girls in school brought a sharp decline in the county's dropout rate.
Roda Elisa Tata, the state’s deputy director of gender, equity and social change, said 184 girls dropped out of Yambio County schools in 2011 because of pregnancy and early marriages, but by the end of the 2012 school year, the number of dropouts in the county was down to 102.
'We have seen to it that most girls are being enrolled in schools -- even those who dropped out because of certain reasons, they have gone back,” Tata said.
But while the county has had success in reducing the dropout rate, it has not succeeded in getting more girls to enrol in school in the first place.
Five hundred fewer girls were enrolled in schools in the county in 2012 that in 2011, official data show.
One of the girls who went back to school is 19-year-old Mizeredi John. Two years ago, John was sent to school in Uganda, but fell pregnant and returned to South Sudan to live with her parents.
“When I gave birth, they decided to send me back to school. That is why am studying in Yabongo mixed secondary school... I thought that was the end of me,” she said.
The organizers of the Yambio project to send girls to school, or to bring back girls who have left, use radio dramas, public service announcements and skits performed in churches and local markets to emphasize the importance of education.
They urge men not to interfere with the goals and aspirations of girl students and advise parents not to allow them their daughters to marry before completing their education.
A Human Rights Watch report
released in March said nearly half of all South Sudanese girls betweent he ages of 15 and 19 are married.
But there are other, simpler reasons for girls not going to school, and they're easy to fix, said Ernesta Nako, the mistress at Yabongo girls’ primary school.
"Most of the challenges our girls face is that our girls, when they are above the maturity period, they feel ashamed to come to school because no comfort kits are given to them," she said.
"African girls... have no money to buy the kits. When this comes they remain at home for one week," she said.