Some 130 million children worldwide do not go to school, says a 1999 United Nations Children's Fund report. And of that figure, two-thirds are girls.
The gender gap in education remains a problem throughout the nonindustrialized world, particularly in Africa. Extreme poverty and cultural traditions often work together to keep girls there away from school, and in recent years the problem has been exacerbated by the large number of parental deaths due to AIDS, a situation that has forced both young girls and boys to leave school to assume adult responsibilities.
"Africa is where the worst problems are," says Phil Twyford, campaign manager for Oxfam's Washington-based Education Now drive. "It's a shocking breach of human rights for girls, and it's one of the main drivers of poverty and misery."
Girls who learn to read and write tend to live longer and have healthier children, says Mr. Twyford. They are also more likely to postpone parenthood and have fewer children, helping to break the cycle of poverty and overpopulation.
Twyford says he'd like to see the international community pour $2 billion into education for African children. But when it comes to girls, he adds, in addition to money, "interventions that change the culture" will also be crucial.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society