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Clock strikes midnight on promise by governments


Embargoed until 12 noon GMT Friday, 25 November 2005

GENEVA / BEIJING, 25 November 2005 – Forty-six countries have fallen short of the target of getting as many girls as boys into school by 2005, UNICEF said today, launching a report illustrating progress and challenges toward achieving gender equity in education.

Gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005, and at all levels of education by 2015, is the key target for ensuring the Millennium Development Goal of gender equality and the empowerment of women (MDG 3). The target is also a precursor to the goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015 (MDG 2).

Yet nearly 115 million children, the majority of them girls, remain out of primary school, according to UNICEF, the lead agency in the UN Girls’ Education Initiative.

Gender Achievements and Prospects in Education (GAP) looks specifically at the continuing enrolment imbalances between girls and boys at the primary school level.

The report underlines that while only 46 countries world-wide have fallen short of the target, there are additional countries where the overall enrolment of children remains unacceptably low.

The exclusion of girls from school not only affects individual girls and their families, but also imperils wider development efforts, the report states, because educating girls is a proven element in social and economic development.

“Education is a fundamental part of growing up,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Education of children, especially girls, is the cornerstone to national progress, because it leads to greater economic productivity, reduced infant and maternal mortality, and a greater likelihood that the next generation of children will go to school.”

“This is an achievable goal, as we know from the fact that so many countries have made strides in closing the gap,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, speaking from Beijing where the global advisory committee of the Girls’ Education Initiative is meeting in advance of UNESCO’s yearly meeting on Education for All.

Among the 180 countries for which data were available, 125 countries – 91 developing countries and 34 industrialized countries – are on course to reach the gender target and have as many girls as boys in school by the end of 2005.

The reasons why children are denied an education include poverty, gender discrimination, poor governance and disease, including HIV/AIDS, as well as natural disasters and man-made emergencies.

Calling attention to the impact of HIV/AIDS on children, teachers and schools, Veneman also noted that UNICEF’s campaign “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS” shines a spotlight on those millions of children whose education has been affected by the global pandemic. Children, particularly girls, whose parents are living with HIV are often forced to leave school and go to work to support their families.

UNICEF called for specific steps to achieve universal primary education by 2015:

Abolish school fees and other charges as national policy.
Provide scholarships and other financial incentives for disadvantaged children.
Cap school charges such as school uniforms, textbooks and other fees that act as barriers to education.
Treat countries with low enrolment and attendance as “emergency” countries and offer them the same kind of immediate funding and technical support that is routinely provided in crisis situations.
Use the school system as a way to deliver other essential services to children, such as good nutrition, immunization, and hygiene education.
To achieve universal primary education by 2015, enrolment must increase globally by an average of 1.3 per cent per year over the next ten years. Specific countries have much steeper advances to make. Benin, for example, must improve at a rate of 2.88 per cent per year, Eritrea must advance at more than 4 per cent per year, Nepal at 2.25 per cent, and Afghanistan at 3.9 per cent.

The report is the first step in an ongoing evaluation of the gender parity target and will lead to a comprehensive technical review. It contains extensive field reporting and country-by-country reports presented in multi-media format involving UN agencies, NGOs, donor countries and field offices. It puts special focus on 25 key countries that face the greatest challenges in getting children, especially girls, in school.

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For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 157 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
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