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27 million children out of school in four Asian countries

UNICEF and UNESCO Institute for Statistics study reveals staggering number of children out of school in South Asia and reasons for exclusion

Kathmandu (29 JANUARY 2014) – A new study released today by UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) finds that a staggering 27 million children between the ages 5-13 are out of school in four countries of South Asia.

The “Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children – South Asia Regional Study covering Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka” shows there are 17 million primary school-age children who are not in school in these four countries. Another 9.9 million lower secondary school-age children are also not attending school bringing the total to 27 million.

Despite such figures impressive achievements in improving basic school enrolment rates have been seen in these countries over the past decade, notably in Sri Lanka where there are only 70,000 children out of school.

The study is part of the global initiative launched in 2010 by UNICEF and UIS. The goal of the initiative is to make a significant and sustainable reduction in the number of children out of school around the world.

Out of the 26 participating countries globally, the four South Asia countries took part in the first phase of the initiative. The South Asia study aims to understand the scale of the problem in the four countries and in the region.

“Children who are not in school lose the opportunity to learn and this takes a huge toll on the rest of their lives. No school, no school records and therefore invisible children for decision makers,” said Karin Hulshof, Regional Director of UNICEF in South Asia.

“We hope this study will equip countries with the knowledge and methodology to better understand who the children excluded from education are, eventually resulting in better solutions to the problem,” she added.

The study shows that deeply entrenched inequalities are the main roadblocks keeping children out of school in South Asia. Reasons for children being out of school include poverty, social and cultural norms, conflict, emergencies and disasters. Children from rural areas, particularly girls, and from urban slums, ethnic minorities, children with disabilities and child labourers face the greatest risk of being denied their right to education. This information is crucial for making informed policies and decisions to reach these excluded children.

“By better identifying who these children are and the challenges they face, we can take concrete and effective steps to reach them,” said Albert Motivans, Head of Education Indicators and Data Analysis at the UIS.

Based on findings, the study urges policy makers to:

• ensure that children out of school or at risk of dropping out receive special attention and more resources from the Ministries of Education

• ensure sufficient and quality education programs in which children out of school can participate

• ensure more and better schooling together with social protection schemes such as scholarships to address multiple barriers to schooling

The release of the study coincides this year with the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). On this occasion, UNICEF will also launch the State of the World’s Children 2014 in Numbers: Every Child Counts – Revealing disparities, advancing children’s rights. These publications are valuable references and drivers for change for the hardest to reach and most vulnerable children.

Full report available.


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