School closures may lead to an additional 10 million early marriages of girls – UNESCO

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has raised concerns that school closures could lead to an additional 10 million early marriages of girls over the next 10 years due to COVID-19.

It, therefore, said the world must give girls the tools they need to succeed and create an enabling environment.

The Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay in a message to commemorate the 2022 International Day of the Girl Child organised in collaboration with Stand With a Girl Initiative, said this means firstly, that developing appropriate public policies as UNESCO provides policy expertise to all the countries that desire it, building on the unique tool “Her Atlas”, which analyses data on girls’ and women’s education from 196 countries worldwide.

Speaking further, Azoulay said this also means fighting the underlying causes of school dropouts, in particular early and unintended pregnancies.

She said, “UNESCO’s “Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future” programme, has raised awareness of these issues among over 30 million girls and women in more than 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This also means ensuring that girls are able to pursue careers in the field of their choice. The UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education Is an opportunity in this regard.

“This year’s laureates are empowering girls in vulnerable contexts with life skills to help them overcome discrimination, thrive in secondary schooling and become leaders in their communities.”

Azoulay therefore said, these practices are a source of inspiration, and offer proof that girls’ education is a force for equality and lasting change.

“The time for this change is now. In the wake of the Transforming Education Summit, convened by the United Nations Secretary-General in September 2022, we have a unique opportunity to break down the barriers that impede students’ full participation in education through bold and ambitious action, matched with adequate resources,” she added.

On his part, the UNESCO’s Head of Education sector, Abuja Regional Office, Mamadou Lamine Sow, disclosed that over 5 million adolescent girls and young women have received life-saving education, information, and skills to make informed decisions about their sexual reproductive health, well-being and achieve their potential in the UNESCO’S “Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future” Programme.

Sow said in addition to the 03 Programme, the Promoting School Health and Education for Girls in Africa in the COVID-19 Era Project is a UNESCO’s gender-specific project that prioritizes girls’ sexual reproductive health and wellbeing, elimination of gender based violence in and through education and to improve knowledge on menstrual hygiene and health management.

“Though being piloted only in Ebonyi State now, a rapid assessment conducted revealed that many girls are out of school due to poverty, early and unintended pregnancy, and sexual and gender-based violence in the state.

“We know that the state is not alone. According to UNICEF MICS 2021 report, in Nigeria, both boys and girls complete primary school at 73%. At Junior Secondary School, boys complete 2% higher than girls at 69% males and 67% females. At Senior Secondary School, it is 57% for males and 51% for girls,” Sow said.

Sow noted that education helps girls escape from the vicious cycle of poverty and into the virtuous cycle of development.

“Education increases household income, favors women’s employment, improves child and maternal health, and limits the spread of HIV and early and unintended pregnancy.

“Education helps girls learn about their bodies, how to manage their reproductive health, about gender equality and life skills. Here is calling for our collective action to change this narrative. And the time for this desired change is now,” he added.

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