Some 123 million children are being left out as classrooms around the world open their doors for the start of the new school year, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today.
"This month millions of families will not share in the pride of sending their children off to school," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. "This is a disheartening reality in a world where education is the right of every child."
UNICEF said that in sub-Saharan Africa, 46 million school-aged children have never stepped foot in a school, a figure that has risen steadily every year since 1990. Another 46 million South Asian youngsters are not in school. These two regions account for three-quarters of the world's entire population of children who are not in school.
Two per cent of the global out-of-school population, about 2.5 million children, live in industrialized countries.
"Ignoring the children who are not in school translates into huge losses in this generation and the next," Ms. Bellamy said. "Far beyond the child losing the direct benefits of an education, absence from school puts children closer to the threat of disease, abuse and sexual exploitation. This is especially so for girls."
Globally, some 66 million girls of school age are not in school. While the gender gap in enrolment has narrowed over the last decade, girls are still the ones most often denied their right to go to school, and those who do attend drop out earlier.
UNICEF has spearheaded a strategic effort to get girls into school by focusing on the specific barriers that prevent girls from accessing and completing an education. Studies show that strategies that get more girls into school also make schools more welcoming for boys.