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Girls Less Likely than Boys to Attend School in Developing Countries - 2003-09-28

The United Nations Children's Fund says more than 120 million children are not going to school. That's about one out of every six around the world. And, UNICEF adds that more girls than boys are not getting an education.

UNICEF says 46 million school-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa have never gone to school. The same number of South Asian children are not in school. These two regions account for three-quarters of the world's entire out-of-school population.

By comparison, only about 2.5 million children in industrialized countries do not attend school.

Recent surveys show that girls are more disadvantaged than boys. They make up 56 percent of children who are deprived of an education.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz points out that some parents in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are reluctant to send girls to school, because they do not see any benefit in it.

"The other main reason is poverty, which is definitely true in all of South-Asian countries, except Sri Lanka. But, it is very true for sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty is the main factor why children are not going to school," he said.

UNICEF is spearheading a drive to get governments to understand that getting more girls into school is an essential strategy for improving the quality of schools and society in general.

The agency says girls who get an education grow up to take better care of themselves and their families. It calls education the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Those who do not attend school are much more likely to suffer from disease, abuse and sexual exploitation, and girls are particularly vulnerable.

UNICEF says there are success stories, which can serve as models for other countries. In Afghanistan under the Taleban, Mr. Personnaz stresses that, no girls were allowed to go to school. "Now, two years later, we can easily say that 4.2 million children in 7,000 schools are going to school. There has been a big increase of 37,000 girls going back to school in Afghanistan. So, that is a major achievement."

However, Mr. Personnaz says that while the government of Afghanistan is willing to send girls to school, a number of communities and families still retain a cultural bias against educating girls.