The number of girls enrolling in primary school has soared across Africa in the last decade, according to a report released on Monday, which also found a significant drop in the number of child deaths over the past five years.
With primary education now free in all but five African countries, there has been a boom in the number of children attending school, with Ethiopia and Angola showing the most dramatic improvements.
In Ethiopia, girls' enrolment rose to 83 percent from 41 percent between 2000 and 2011, while Angola saw an increase to 78 percent from 35 percent, according to the African Report on Child Wellbeing produced by the African Child Policy Forum, a research institute based in Ethiopia.
The report looked at how child-friendly African governments were by measuring their performance in providing basic services for children, adopting laws and policies to protect children, and promoting child participation in decisions that affect them.
African governments are increasingly child-friendly," former Mozambican president Joaqim Chissano said in the report. "Achievements on the education front - and particularly the dramatic increase in access to primary education, especially for girls - are commendable."
However, girls continue to fare poorly at secondary school. In Angola, only 12 percent of girls attend secondary school, slightly below 15 percent of boys.
"Low levels of access to secondary education mean they will also not enter tertiary education, which effectively excludes them from the most gainful employment opportunities, thereby perpetuating systemic gender imbalance," the report said.
Across Africa, 26 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys attend secondary school while 78 percent of girls and 83 percent of boys attend primary school.
South Africa is the best performing, with near universal access to secondary education for girls at 97 percent, and only a slightly lower level for boys at 93 percent, according to figures from the U.N. children's agency UNICEF.
REDUCING CHILD DEATHS
The report found the greatest gains in Africa over the past five years were in reducing child deaths.
"The greatest good news of all has been the decline in under-five mortality rate, at a pace not observed or recorded by any other continent or country in the world," the report said. "This may well be the fastest decline in child mortality the world has seen for at least three decades."
Between 2008 and 2011, Rwanda reduced child mortality by more than 52 percent, and Liberia by more than 47 percent. Niger, Ethiopia, Guinea and Madagascar also recorded significant gains.
In Seychelles, Mauritius and Tunisia, child mortality rates are low as those of industrialised countries.
The major causes of child mortality in Africa can be prevented by simple measures such as women giving birth with skilled attendants, use of mosquito nets and access to antibiotics.
Child mortality is generally highest in countries with the lowest coverage of water and sanitation, such as Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Overall, the report found that political commitment, rather than the wealth of a country, was the key factor in improving the lives of its children.
"It is a matter of political commitment, manifested primarily in a government's willingness to put children at the top of the policy agenda and prioritise budgets accordingly," it said.
African governments spend on average about 11 percent of their budget on health, below the 15 percent they committed to in the 2001 Abuja Declaration. Education receives an average of 4.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product, half of the nine percent to which they committed in Dakar.
Mauritius, South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt, Cape Verde, Rwanda, Lesotho, Algeria, Swaziland and Morocco emerged as the 10 most child-friendly countries in Africa.
The 10 least child-friendly governments were Chad, Eritrea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Zimbabwe, Comoros, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire and Mauritania.