Why investing in education means investing in child safety

“70% of ten-year-olds in low and middle income countries are unable to read a simple text with understanding. In sub-Saharan Africa, that figure is 90%”

This year’s International Day of Education should be a chance to celebrate the transformative power of learning. But for too many children, access to quality education is difficult or even impossible.

The UN estimates that 250 million children and youth globally are not in school. Hundreds of millions more attend, but without adequate learning outcomes. The World Bank reports that 70% of ten-year-olds in low and middle income countries are in “learning poverty” – unable to read a simple text with understanding. In sub-Saharan Africa, that figure is 90%.

Violence against children and the threat of it are a critical factor holding back progress for educational attainment and other development goals. Around 1 billion children globally experience some form of emotional, physical or sexual violence every year. On average, up to 5% of national GDP is lost every year as a consequence of this global scourge.

All forms of violence – emotional, physical /and or sexual – in childhood are linked to lower grades and standardised test scores. Children who have experienced sexual violence are 29% more likely to score lower on standardised tests compared to children who have not. Experiencing any form of violence in childhood has also been shown to increase school dropout by 8%.

There are clear gendered dimensions to the impact of violence on education outcomes. Girls who drop out of school are more likely to marry or become pregnant before they turn 18. This has major negative lifelong consequences for girls and women, including lower earnings in adulthood, negative health outcomes for them and their children, and their ability to make decisions within their household, and the risk of experiencing intimate partner violence.

Governments invest just over 4% on average of total spending in education and efforts to prevent and respond to violence in and through schools is rarely a feature of this spending.

Those governments that do invest in gathering national-level data on the prevalence and nature of violence against children have a much clearer picture of the challenges they face – and a solid basis from which to improve child safety and wellbeing.

Violence Against Children & Youth Surveys (VACS) have been used by 24 governments around the world to date.

Kenya and Eswatini are two countries leading the effort to generate national data on all forms of violence against children. They have conducted two VACS with promising reductions across all forms of violence, demonstrating the progress that is possible with the implementation of evidence-based policies and targeted interventions to address violence against children.

Between Kenya’s first VACS in 2010 and its second in 2019, physical violence decreased by more than 40% for 18-24-year-old females and more than 25% for 18-24-year-old males, and sexual violence decreased by 50% for females and 66% for males.

A new groundbreaking study by our partners LVCT Health found that between Kenya’s two surveys, there was a significant increase in funding for programs and services – including within the education sector – aimed at preventing and responding to violence against children and ensuring access to education, an important preventative factor.

These findings make clear the difference that investing in children’s safety makes in their lives, and the critical need for government investment to take child protection into account.

All children have a right to learn. The threat of violence stops many from going to school and many more from achieving learning outcomes. Yet, we know that violence against children is preventable and that effective solutions exist.

If they are serious about education, governments must invest in understanding the nature and drivers of violence against children, and use data and evidence to ensure their safety. When schools are safe, children will truly have the chance to learn.

Chrissy Hart is Director of Policy & Advocacy at Together for Girls.