Daughters pay price of poverty

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Habiba Bare, 45, lives in a sprawling town where the unfinished asphalt road stops suddenly en route east from Jijiga towards the Somali border.

Like many people here she lives in a straw hut waterproofed by cracked tarpaulin and odd bits of fabric - ragged cardigans and dresses cut open and stretched to cover the rounded roof - and ekes out a living for herself and her 10 children by making rush matting to sell at market. Though three of her children are currently in school, daughter Saada, 16, had to leave last year to get married because Habiba could not afford the expense of keeping her either at school or at home.

"It costs a lot to send a child to school," says Habiba. "We must pay for exercise books, pens and uniform. A uniform costs 100 Birr (pound;6.45) per child. I have 10 children, so altogether it has been very expensive.

"Saada left school due to our lack of money. My husband is too old to work, so it is me who must support the family. The cost of sending my children to school is about three-fifths of my income."

Saada's former primary teacher, Muktar Sharif, explains that his school only enrols around 25 per cent of girls. "They are poor, so the boys come and the girls do not," he says. "We try to make the families aware by going and talking to them about why it is good to educate girls. The numbers are going up a little every year. But the girls often leave."

It is a common story in a country where a full primary and secondary education is a luxury even for boys. Despite the Ethiopian government abolishing fees for primary pupils, the associated expenses involved in sending even a single child to school can prove prohibitive.

According to Save the Children, the pound;37 it costs to send a child to school in Ethiopia amounts to three-quarters of national average income per person.

Sitting in the shade beside her mother's hut, Saada seems somewhat wistful for the opportunity she has lost. "I was good at sport at school," she says. "Volleyball was my favourite. But now I am married I am busy with the housework and I don't play sports anymore. In some ways, yes, I regret getting married at 15, because it meant I did not finish my education. That time is over now."

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