International Literacy Day – helping children and young people to claim their rights to education

Posted by Oxfam From life-saving emergency responses to life-changing development projects and campaigning

8th Sep 2012

Children at school in Razak, Shar-i-Buzurg, Afghanistan. Credit: Elissa Bogos/Oxfam

For over 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning.


"Ask any parent what they want for their children, even in war zones and disaster areas where food, medicine and shelter might be considered the highest priorities, and the answer is the same: education for children.  Ask any child what he or she wishes to be when they grow up, and the answer is rooted in education.  Education is the gateway to fulfilling those aspirations."

The words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for International Literacy Day. However, worryingly, many poor countries are not on course to meet the Millennium Development Goals on education by 2015.

An estimated 775 million young people and adults around the world still cannot read or write; 122 million children of primary and lower secondary school age remain out of school; and millions still graduate with inadequate literacy skills.

A new Oxfam programme aims to challenge this, the My Rights, My Voice (MRMV) is a new global programme that aims to engage marginalised children and youth in their rights to health and education services.

MRMV builds on the foundations of existing health and education projects, but its focus is on working with the young people themselves, strengthening their awareness of and ability to demand their rights. It is founded on the belief that young people have the potential to become dynamic forces for transformative change in their own lives and for societal development more generally.

Run by Oxfam GB and Oxfam Novib, and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), eight country projects make up the programme: Mali, Niger, Tanzania, Georgia, Pakistan, Viet Nam Nepal and Afghanistan,.

Afghanistan is a particularly young country with 68% of the population aged 12-25 and half of this group under 15. However there is a low level of awareness of children and young people's education rights and the country's literacy rate is estimated to be just 37.8%.

School enrolment in Afghanistan is low - especially for girls, where there are cultural restrictions against girls' education. However it is even low for boys, where issues such as insecurity and the long distances involved in walking to and from school can be a barrier.

The MRMV project in Afghanistan aims to target children aged 12-25, encouraging them to become active citizens by creating youth groups and training them on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and supporting them in lobbying government - at local and district levels.

The project also works with parents and elders to challenge some of the barriers to educational participation and raise their awareness of the rights of children and young people, in order to create a supportive environment in which those rights can flourish.

By making children and young people more aware of their rights to education and health services, and by giving them the tools to assert their rights, the programme aims to achieve lasting change.

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