Right to education for all children in Vanuatu - are girls getting an equal opportunity to education compared to boys?

Author:Naidu, Supreena

    The issue of female children failing to receive or continue with formalized education is an international problem. Between 1999 and 2006, the worldwide number of children not in school declined from about a 100 million to 75 million. However, girls still constitute 55% of all children that have not attended school, down from 59% in 1999. Worldwide, for every 100 boys out of school there are 122 girls. In some countries the gender gap is much wider. For example, for every 100 boys out of school in Yemen there are 270 girls, in Iraq 316 girls, in India 426 girls, and in Benin 257 girls. (1) The issue is quite prevalent worldwide and is also a common problem within the region of the south Pacific. The Melanesian region seems to have the lowest rate of enrolled female children compared to male children. In 2000, for every 100 boys enrolled into primary, secondary and tertiary schools, Papua New Guinea had 86, 67 and 55 enrolled girls. In the Solomon Islands, there were 86 girls in primary, 70 in secondary and 30 in tertiary schools. (2)

    This is also an issue in Vanuatu where compared to a 100 boys at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, there were 91, 93 and 50 girls, respectively. (3) Fortunately today, most leaders of Vanuatu have realised that educating their young is the way to achieve this primary objective. (4) Consequently, there has been a slow yet steady progress towards achieving this goal over the past few decades.

    The broad objective of this paper is to conduct a literature review to ascertain whether girls have an equal opportunity to partake and continue with formalised education in Vanuatu. This paper will analyse and describe what the Government of Vanuatu's legal obligations are towards ensuring that female children are not hindered from receiving and continuing formalised education. As such, the paper discusses international laws signed and ratified by the Government and also the formulation of domestic laws. It will further identify current policies that address the issue of gender disparities in Vanuatu. It will then look at data for rate of enrolment of girls into levels of formalised education institutions, that is, pre-schools, primary schools, secondary schools and vocational training centres, from the years 1979 to 2007, as compared to boys in Vanuatu (where available). It seeks to identify the remaining barriers that contribute to the reasons why girls face difficulties in terms of enrolment into schools and continuing their education. Finally, the paper will conclude by suggesting some further possible interventions that the Government of Vanuatu can implement to ensure that there is an equal opportunity for girls to access education minimising the gap of gender disparity.


    In Vanuatu, the primary source of law establishing equal opportunity for female children to formal education in prescribed in its Constitution. (5) Section 5 states the fundamental rights and freedom of individuals in Vanuatu stating that all persons are entitled to these rights and freedoms without gender discrimination. (6) It also demands equal treatment of all persons under the law with recognition of special benefits, welfare, protection and advancement of females, children and young persons. (7) The enforcement (8) of fundamental rights and the duty to respect the rights and freedoms of others (9) has also been incorporated in the Constitution.

    These fundamental rights and freedoms have been adopted from international human rights documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). They are further supported by Vanuatu's ratification of international human rights conventions.

    The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (10) is one source of fundamental rights and freedom in Vanuatu. The Convention states that all children have the right to education based on equal opportunity regardless of age, gender or race. (11) Additionally, State parties are to ensure that all children are protected from all forms of discrimination. (12) Article 28 compels state parties to progressively achieve this right by:

    * making primary education compulsory, available and free to all;

    * developing different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, and make them accessible and available to every child, along with the introduction of free education and financial assistance in case of need;

    * making higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity;

    * making educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children; and

    * taking measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates. (13)

    The State of Vanuatu signed the CRC in September 1990 (14) and ratified the CRC in July 1993. (15) It is the only country in the South Pacific to have domesticated the Convention through its CRC (Ratification) Act. (16)

    The international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (17) has also been signed by the State of Vanuatu in July 1993 (18) and ratified through its CEDAW (Ratification) Act (19) in September 1995. (20) Article 10 prescribes for State parties to ensure that there is no gender discrimination in the field of education. Some of the provisions which directly address the issue advise State parties to achieve the goals under Article 10 by:--

    * providing the same conditions for career and vocational guidance, for access to studies and for the achievement of diplomas in educational establishments of all categories. Equality is to be ensured in pre-school, general, technical, professional and higher technical education as well as vocational training;

    * providing for access to the same curricula, the same examinations, teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard and school premises and equipment of the same quality;

    * the elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education by encouraging coeducation and other types of education which will help to achieve this aim and, in particular, by the revision of textbooks and school programmes and the adaptation of teaching methods;

    * providing the same opportunities to benefit from scholarships and other study grants;

    * providing the same opportunities for access to programmes of continuing education, including adult and functional literacy programmes;

    * reducing female student drop-out rates and the organization of programmes for girls and women who have left school prematurely. (21)

    The United Nations Millennium Summit 2000 established eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDGs are however not a legal commitment but is a common platform for signatory state party countries to address development issues of poverty in its many dimensions, of which universal primary education and the empowerment of women are included. (22) Two of the MDGs are relevant to the issue at hand. Goal 2 describes the achievement of universal primary education which ensures that all children complete a full course of primary schooling. Secondly, Goal 3 was to ensure the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through the elimination of gender disparities in primary and secondary education. The foremost plan of action towards achieving this goal is to ensure that schooling is readily accessible to all children and adolescents and that basic education is available to all families. (23) These goals are to be achieved by State parties by the year 2015. As a member state to this Summit, Vanuatu has further reaffirmed this responsibility towards ensuring a gender balance in the enrolment of girls by achieving these goals by the year 2015.

    In order to help implement these commitments, Vanuatu passed the Education Act 2001. Vanuatu's Education Act (24) legislates against discrimination based on gender for enrolment of school children. The objective of the Act is to provide primary and secondary education of a high standard to all children with available resources, to expand access to secondary education, to eliminate educational disadvantages arising from the gender of a child, or a child's economic, social, cultural circumstances, to assist each child to achieve his or her full educational potential, and to provide education to children that gives them access to opportunities for training, employment or further study. (25) Provisions in this Act provide protection to children, especially females, in that schools are not to exercise disparities in the enrolment of children into schools.


    (1) A child is not to be refused admission to any school on account of his or her gender, religion, nationality, race, language or disability. (26)

    There have also been many national policies and strategic usage of plans which address the issue of equal opportunity to formal education for girls in Vanuatu. The key developments and policies are described below.


    In 1997, the Government of Vanuatu introduced the Comprehensive Reform Programme. The CRP established nine benchmarks out of which education was the eighth. Under the program educational reforms were planned. Key reforms included a national goal of 10 years' of schooling by 2010; a collaboration between government, churches, NGOs and women's groups to combat illiteracy and address the gender imbalance in post primary education; and encouraging private sector to contribute towards training programs and scholarships. (27)

    2.3 EDUCATION MASTER PLAN 2000-2010

    Vanuatu's Education Master Plan is a Ministry of Education policy development initiative, which incorporated the EFA National Plan of Action, the Ministry of Education Corporate Plan 2004-2006 and the 1999 Master...

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