Education of girls in Ituri against the weight of tradition

Reportage à Ndrele

Ndrele, a business centre in the Mahagi territory (UNICEF DRC Ramazani)

YOUNG REPORTERThe education of children should not pose a problem, but, in the Mahagi territory, in Ituri, customs are a major barrier for the education of girls. I went to Ndrele, a business centre in the Mahagi territory, around 180km from the town of Bunia, to find out more.

The situation of young girls in Ituri

In the Ituri province, every territory has its own reality. In this territory, many children are exploited in the fields and particularly in coffee bean plantations.

The majority of girls start their studies, but after getting their Primary School Certificate, it is rare for them to go to secondary school and obtain their State Diploma. They face the phenomenon of child marriage.

Less and less girls in class

Education of girls in Ituri

Education of girls in Ituri (UNICEF DRC Ramazani)

I interviewed Mr Wathum, who is the Prefect of studies at the OWIL Institute, one of the three largest secondary schools in the area.

“At primary school, you find more girls than boys. Many families send their girls to primary school, but as soon as they have got the end of primary school certificate, the treatment of school changes shape. The more girls that go to school, the fewer they become over time.”

We also visited the primary schools in the region. The school authorities told us the same thing. “I have 487 students – 310 boys but 177 girls. That is almost the same in every year group. Only 36% girls… too low a percentage given the number of girls in the community,” added Mr Wathum.

But how can we explain this phenomenon which limits the chances of young girls thriving?

Child marriage, an obstacle for the future of young girls

“Here, child marriages are too common. Parents marry their children off before the legal age. But above all, once a girl falls pregnant, to save family honour the families arrange an amicable way of marrying off the pregnant girl. It’s after that that these girls abandon their studies.”

Once they are in their new home, the hope of finishing their studies disappears for these young girls. According to tradition, the girl’s place is in the home.

“In this school year alone, 5 girls from my school have left. Carine is one of these girls. She was very clever, and in the fifth class for Humanities Teaching. I learnt that she got married in a neighbouring village. It is the same with many of them.”

Towards a change in behaviour

It is difficult to change norms, but Mr Wathum is convinced that it is not impossible. Legal instruments protect children against child marriages (Convention on the Rights of the Child,  The Law on child protection (PPE) and the various laws on sexual violence) should be widely disseminated. Communities live in ignorance.

For every child, education (UNICEF DRC Ramazani)

For 12 year old Merber, a first year secondary school student at the same school, she is very determined to get her diploma in spite of the community’s prejudice.

“Getting married before I have my diploma is the last thing on my mind. My older sister was made to get married to a man that got her pregnant. So, she had to drop out. I see things differently. I will even go to university if my parents’ financial situation allows.”

I approached the head of the centre to understand his perspective on the issue. “Many families send their boys to universities. It is a shame there is no work afterwards. And people say it would be better not to waste money on education.” However, the head hopes that there is an improvement in the education of girls.  “The community is starting to understand the importance of educating girls.” The biggest difficulty is – and remains – young girls getting pregnant, which very often leads to child marriage.

My plea for the education of young girls

Communities forget the unlimited potential of these young girls. Looking at this situation, I plead for a government and organisational intervention without delay, which should take action to promote child protection.

We need to heighten awareness and take steps to discourage families who want to marry off their children before the legal age. Child betrothals and marriages are forbidden, due to article 48 of the Law on Child Protection. We will contribute to the fulfilment of this clause.

Do we want an emerging nation? Prioritising the education of young girls over marriage is one of the possible ways!

More info about education of girls in DRC :

Translated from French by Lucy Oyelade

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David a rejoint le Club d'Ecoute pour Enfants en 2012. Deux ans après, il en est devenu le porte-parole puis en 2015, le coordonnateur. La même année, David est devenu Enfant Reporter. Il présente également diverses émissions sur les droits de l'Enfant. "Parler des droits de l'Enfant via les médias, c'est ma préférence". David étudie le droit à Bunia et rêve de travailler à la défense des droits des plus vulnérables.

David joined the Children's Listening Club in 2012. Two years later, David became the spokesperson and in 2015 the coordinator. That same year, David became a child reporter. Since 2014, David has hosted various programmes on child rights.  "I want to use the media to talk about child rights”. David studies law in Bunia and dreams of working to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. He says he will always work for children.

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