Millions of children already faced financial, social, and discriminatory
barriers and were at high risk of being excluded from a quality education - especially girls, children
with disabilities, children from low-income
households, and those living in areas affected by armed conflict. The
on private schools or unlawfully levied school fees and other indirect
costs in public schools have long been a barrier for many children, including
in countries that theoretically guarantee universal
free primary and secondary education.
The pandemic has further exacerbated Africa's
socioeconomic inequalities and exposed existing gaps in education, health, and
social protection systems, with significant impact on children's lives.
Nationwide school closures also contributed to an increase
in child labor. Many children had no access to remote learning.
In countries including Uganda and Ghana, where cash assistance
programs for families during the pandemic have been insufficient, many children
have been forced into exploitative and hazardous child labor to support their
families. In many cases, children had already dropped out of school before the
pandemic because they could
not afford to pay school fees, or were working grueling and long hours not
only to support their families, but to earn money so they could return to
New estimates from
the International Labour Organization and UNICEF found that in Sub-Saharan
Africa, the number of children in child labor grew by 16.6 million between 2016
and 2020, driving the first increase in global rates in 20 years.
The African continent has the world's highest adolescent
pregnancy rates, and teenage pregnancies increased during
lockdowns in various countries. Across Africa, tens of thousands of students
are barred from school because they became pregnant or are parents. Many
not have policies for re-entry after giving birth or to manage
adolescent pregnancy in schools.
Governments that have made strong commitments in recent years to ensure that
pregnant girls and mothers can attend school should swiftly put the promise into
action. They should follow the examples of Sierra
Tome e Principe, which recently removed bans or amended policies to ensure
that pregnant students and parents can resume formal education in public
African governments should urgently adopt plans to redress the right to
education for millions of students who are at risk of not returning to school
once schools reopen for in-person teaching, as well as those who aged out of
compulsory education during the pandemic. They should also ensure that primary
and secondary education are fully free, guarantee quality, inclusive education
to children with disabilities, strengthen public education systems, and ensure adequate
investment and resources for education.
The African Union should also press governments to urgently adopt laws and
policies that encourage girls to stay in school, and stop banning pregnant
girls from continuing with their education and succeeding academically, Human
Rights Watch said.
In response to the increase in poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic,
governments should provide cash allowances to families who need them.
Governments should ensure that schools do not charge any fees or expect family
contributions and follow up with children most at-risk of dropping out to
ensure that they return to school.
All African Union countries should endorse the Safe
Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental commitment to strengthen the
prevention of, and response to, attacks on students, teachers, schools, and
universities during wartime. Although 30 African countries have endorsed the declaration - and have been leaders
in implementing its commitments over the past year, children, teachers
and schools are under attack, including in Burkina
Republic of Congo, Ethiopia,
The African Union should continue its call on member states to ensure that
children are safe from attacks against education and restrict the use of
schools for military purposes, Human Rights Watch said.
"To achieve the AU's Agenda 2040, the African Union should ensure that all
African children have access to a good quality education, and that they are
safe from violence, exploitation, or discrimination in any context," Kaneza
Nantulya said. "African governments should ensure that children are front and
center in their pandemic recovery plans, prioritizing education, and urgently
tackling longstanding problems in public education systems caused by the
absence of legal frameworks, and inadequate policies and resources."