As the world marks the International Day of the Girl on Thursday, girls in South Sudan are calling on their government to do more to help them receive an education.
Low teacher pay and unqualified teachers are among the problems facing South Sudanese girls, and they want their nation's leaders to do something about it.
Marcelino, 16, a pupil at Juba Model Primary School, argued Tuesday with pupils at Juba One Girls Primary School over whether girls can lead and contribute to nation-building, during a debate sponsored by the NGO Plan International.
Marcelino said that the government should improve conditions at schools and that parents should allow girls time to do homework instead of chores.
"Teachers have to be paid salaries so we shall have enough female teachers in school. Also, the challenges facing girls in school, they are not concentrating on what the teachers are saying. In our school, boys are the ones participating in school. If the results are out, all the people who are in the top 10 are boys. So, maybe [the girls] are having a lot of work at home, which is not good," Marcelino told South Sudan in Focus.
Plan International launched a five-year campaign to empower South Sudanese girls and improve South Sudanese schools. Abadi Amdu, Plan International program director in South Sudan, said the campaign is all about improving access to education for girls and reducing gender-based violence (GBV).
"We will work very aggressively on quality education mainly for girls, because we have been left behind. We have also very serious work on health, which includes sexual reproductive health, on child protection, protecting our girls from child marriage, from abuse, from neglect, from GBV," Amdu told South Sudan in Focus.
Student Malaz, 14, who attends Juba Model Primary School, was named the symbolic chief guest at Thursday's launch of the campaign. Malez stood in as the director-general at the Jubek State Ministry of Education, a move intended to make her feel the power of carrying out major decisions that affect students, teachers and schools across the country.
Malaz said poorly trained teachers and their low salaries make it nearly impossible for a child to receive a proper education in South Sudan. She offered some recommendations.
"There should be a teacher-lesson attendance, so that if he or she finishes teaching, he or she must sign in that book, and the inspector must inspect this book every month," said Malaz.
According to the South Sudan Ministry of General Education, at least 70 percent of South Sudan's population is illiterate.
In a report released earlier this year by Plan International, William Ater, an adviser at the South Sudan Ministry of Education, said nearly 2 million South Sudanese children, the vast majority of whom are girls, are not enrolled in school.
The Plan International report found that South Sudan's nearly five-year conflict has affected girls far more than boys, and that adolescent girls were often forced into early marriage or prostitution instead of attending school.