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While free primary education has led to 88 per cent net enrolment in primary school, the completion rate for primary school is just 33 per cent. Girls (38 per cent), children living in an urban area (65 per cent), and the wealthiest households (67 per cent) have a higher chance of completing primary school than boys (29 per cent), children in rural areas (27 per cent) and children in poorest households (11 per cent). Of children of lower secondary school age, 12 per cent attend lower secondary school or a higher level. Poor educational outcomes have been partly driven by school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic and teachers’ strikes.

The dropout rate of girls in secondary education increased from 6.4 per cent in 2020 to 9.5 per cent in 2021. For many girls, dropping out is common due to child marriage and teen pregnancy, with a 50 per cent child marriage rate, a 29 per cent teenage pregnancy rate, and 20 per cent of girls experiencing sexual abuse before the age of 18. Closure of schools, coupled with limited household economic resources during the COVID-19 period, contributed to an 11 per cent increase in teenage pregnancies, with over 40,000 teen pregnancies and 13,000 cases of child marriage reported between January and August 2020. Parents’ and caregivers’ lack of support and negative attitudes towards girls’ education also contribute to high dropout and low school completion rates.

Only 19 per cent of children between 7 and 14 have foundational reading skills in either Chichewa or English, while 14 per cent of 7- and 8-year-olds can read a short story at the required level, 11 per cent are able to correctly answer literal comprehension questions related to the story, and 9 per cent are able to correctly answer inferential comprehension questions related to the story.

Thirteen percent of children between 7 and 14 have foundational numeracy skills. The learning poverty has been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 and requires urgent foundational literacy and numeracy interventions to prevent the ongoing generational loss of children to poverty and unemployment, further driving negative socio-economic conditions and poor economic development.

A 2016 Malawi Human Rights Commission public inquiry into the status of children’s rights shows that corporal punishment is being administered in schools at unprecedented levels. Learners are slapped, kicked, whipped, pinched and hit.5 Learners do not always consider corporal punishment as violence and even deem it acceptable. Teachers have a limited concept of violence, particularly of a sexual nature, so may not act on cases of this nature. Some teachers also do not view sexual harassment or assault of girls as abuse or severe enough to warrant intervention.

Therefore, under this program, CHICOSUDO aims at achieving the following:
• Ensuring children of three to six years have access to early childhood education through Community Child Care Centers.
• Improve learning environment of children especially girls so that they complete primary schools education level.
• Enhance adolescent skills and employability, particularly alternative and multiple pathways to learning and skills training opportunities as well as non-formal or second-chance education.
• Promoting access to basic education among marginalized girls by ensuring access to improved sexual and reproductive health information and menstrual hygiene services.
• Mobilizing community to address harmful cultural beliefs and values that do not allow girls stay in school.

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