Girls across 52 African countries are routinely denied education; made to marry too young; endure sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at home, work, and school; are excluded from health care; and are unable to own or inherit property, a report by the advocacy group African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) has indicated.
The report concluded that African girls are “condemned to a lifetime of discrimination and inequality”, due a long list of government failures.
Although the report acknowledged that “significant strides” have been made in the past 30 years for girls, including improved access to schooling as well as better protection from exploitation, female genital mutilation (FGM), and child marriage, it insists that “these efforts are simply not enough”.
“Despite slow progress in some areas, girls across the continent continue to wake up to the daily reality of injustice. An entire generation of girls and young women is being failed,” said ACPF executive director Joan Nyanyuki. “African girls have endured harmful cultural beliefs, patriarchal gender attitudes, and discriminatory laws, policies, and practices for far too long.”
Per the report, Chad, Eritrea, Niger, Central African Republic, and South Sudan are the worst places in Africa to be born a girl, thanks to high rates of child marriage and malnutrition, and very low levels of school enrolment. The report also found that while there are 308 million African girls below the age of 18, only one in five girls has access to secondary school in many countries.
The ACPF report also found that a third of primary schools and a quarter of all secondary schools have no sanitation facilities. Sexual harassment and emotional abuse against girls by both teachers and peers is also commonplace, forcing many girls to drop out of school entirely, it added.
However, good progress is being made on the positive end of the spectrum with Mauritius being the best African country to be born a girl, the report found.
The tiny African nation was found to be among the countries to have reformed their laws on girls’ rights, and harmonised them with international standards. The island nation also has the highest rate of pre-primary education and all pregnant teenagers have access to antenatal care, per the report.
Other girl-friendly countries in Africa, according to the ACPF report, are Tunisia, South Africa, Seychelles, Algeria, Cabo Verde, and Namibia.
It is worth noting that countries like South Africa and Namibia, for example, have seen protest movements against high levels of gender-based violence this year despite their positive ratings by the report.
“Without determined and targeted action, African girls will be left behind as we step up efforts to achieve Africa’s Agenda 2060 and Africa’s Agenda for Children 2040,” said Nyanyuki.
Graça Machel, Chair of the ACPF International Board of Trustees, said: “Girls and women have always been and will continue being the bedrock of African society, then, now, and in the future. But their contribution has remained considerably undervalued. For us to create a just and inclusive society, to prosper and ensure sustainable development, we must invest in our girls.”
She added: “The facts paint a sobering picture of the situation of girls and remind us that governments’ efforts are simply not enough and incommensurate with the myriad of challenges they are facing.”