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I have always been amazed at the determination of children to go to school and the sacrifices parents make to ensure that their child gets an education.
I have met children who walk up to four hours each way to get to school and yet report very low absenteeism. I have seen children learning under a tree, with a makeshift blackboard hanging from a branch – they sit on a mat and take notes on their laps. I know of night schools attended by children living in the streets, who need to work long hours during the day to survive. I have been told by parents in a tea estate and in refugee camps that their biggest wish is for their children to get an education.
These children and their families know that good quality education, like food or health care, is essential to live in dignity and to help them realize their full human capabilities. Unfortunately, this right is often denied.
An estimated 244 million children ages six to 18 worldwide remain out of school. Many are denied their right to education because of poverty; or because of their gender, religion, language, cultural identity, disability or forced displacement. Lack of public investment, or lack of government resources can hinder the delivery of free and quality education.
The impact on girls is significant. Girls in countries affected by conflict are “more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls who live in non-affected countries,” says UNESCO. Worldwide, three quarters of all primary-age children (about nine million) who may never set foot in school are girls. Girls are further disadvantaged by sexual violence, some miss school during their monthly menstrual cycle because of lack of sanitary products and lack of school facilities.
Lack of education affects not only individuals but society at large. Countless studies have shown that education alleviates poverty, reduces inequality, improves health, narrows the gender gap, and
translates into progress, peace, and stability for societies as a whole. “Education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make,” asserts the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Best efforts are not enough. Unless a redoubled and concerted effort is made by states, international bodies, civil society, communities, schools, parents, churches and indeed, all of us, we will put the world and the future of generations at risk.
In this issue you will read about CJI-supported initiatives in India, the Middle East and Africa. Providing good, free quality education to the most excluded members of society not only upholds a Gospel value but defends a basic human right.