Written by Faith Galgalo
The country profile
Located in West Africa, and on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, The Republic of Benin (French: République du Bénin), gained independence in 1960, from the French rule. Benin, is part of the 15 member states that make up Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a Regional Bloc aimed at promoting economic corporation among member states, to raise living standards and promote economic development.
Education System in Benin
Benin education system follows the French education model, which is Six years in primary, four years in Junior High, three years in Senior High and three years in University, which constitutes to the 6-4-3-3 system (UNESCO, 2023). Education in Benin has been free for 17 years. The provision of the constitution under Rights and Duties of the Individual, Article 13, states that primary education shall be obligatory and the government shall progressively offer free education to its schools (Constitution of Benin (COB), 1990).
Problems in Benin Education
Benin strategy to increasing student enrollment by introducing free education at the Primary level, increased the enrollment rate, from a net enrollment rate of 82% in 2005 before free primary education, to 97% in 2018, 12 years after free primary education was introduced (Data World Bank, 2018).
The rapid increase of students at the foundation level of education due to free education, has however, not translated, in the progressive levels of education, of Secondary and University. According to World Bank Data, 54% of Beninese children enrolled in the 1st grade of Primary school eventually reaches the last grade of Primary education. The low number of students progressing to Secondary and University schools has significantly been attributed to child labor, early marriages, early pregnancy and poverty.
The low literacy levels, which currently stands at 46% and is much lower than the rates in the neighboring countries of Nigeria (62%) and Togo (67%) (World Bank, 2021). In 2018, Benin was among the 10 least literate countries in the world (42.36). The high dropout rate to other levels of education, have led to a reduction of national income and overall GDP in the country, as jobs for less qualified people lead to low-income jobs in the future, creating a lower access to innovation and a lower GDP. As individuals with low levels of literacy are more likely to experience poorer employment opportunities, outcomes and lower income as they face welfare dependency and high levels of poverty as a country (World Literacy Foundation, 2018).
The high dropout rates are particularly evident to Benin gender gaps, which have seen more girls drop out than boys. In Benin, gaps between women and men stem from structural social disparities that start earlier in life. According to World Bank, (Nathalie, 2022) the male literacy rate between 15-24 years is about 55 percent while the female literacy rate in the same age group is about 30 percent. Only one in ten girls aged 21-24 have completed secondary school. Moreover, one third of 20–24-year-olds are married by the age of 18, and 15 percent are already mothers at the age of 15-19 (Nathalie, 2022).
In addition, the average number of years of schooling in Benin is 3.8 years which is lower than its ECOWAS member countries of 4.2 years in 2019 (UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2022).
Since 2015, Benin has not yet closed the gap. Also, the drop in lower secondary completion rate from 45% in 2015 to 33% and 2020 (UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2022) echoes the need to focus on the pursuit of education and ensure 100% transition from one level of education to the next, in both genders.
These gender gaps have translated to the larger community whereby the gender parity index which measures the steps a country has made towards gender parity in participation and/or educational opportunities for females is low at 0.79% (World Bank, 2022). Young girls in Benin are at risk of not completing education as a result of societal norms automatically decreasing women participation of women in Benin’s formal sector. The Government has increased its efforts in ensuring Girls education is addressed with Benin agreeing to introduce the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa which is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for Children in Africa (Forwerk, 2017).
Children in Benin engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in the production of cotton and crushed granite. Children also perform dangerous tasks in domestic work and street vending. According to International Labor Organization (ILO, 2021), 20% of children under the age of 14yrs, experience child labor.
Children are trafficked mostly within Benin but also to neighboring countries such as Gabon, Nigeria, and the Republic of the Congo, for domestic work and commercial sexual exploitation, and to work in vending, farming, and stone quarrying (ILO, 2021). Children living in the northern regions of Benin are the most vulnerable to trafficking owing to being a rural area. According to the International Labor Organization, a practice locally known as vidomégon (Child placement), where children most girls, are sent to live with other families for domestic work in exchange for educational opportunities, which in most cases, lead to many children becoming victims of labor exploitation and sexual abuse.
In 2013, the Government implemented a nationwide anti-child labor awareness campaign and signed a bi-partite agreement with a Beninese worker association to reduce child labor through increased collaboration (Refworld, 2021). That year, the Government officials handled 62 child trafficking cases and 11 exploitive child labor cases, referred 23 suspects to the court system on child labor and trafficking charges, and provided shelter to 173 victims of trafficking (ILO, 2021). In another effort to end child labor, Benin’s government through its Social Affairs docket, removed 400 children from child labor as a result of Social Services inspection (ILO, 2021).
Lack of official documentation
The Beninese Government offers free registration to a new born before 10 days, after which, the parent/ guardian incurs a fee of $30 (ILO, 2021). Cultural practices such as naming a baby, takes 10 days after birth, which therefore gives the parents little time to register and obtain a birth certificate. While in other households, 2 in 10 children in Benin, are born at home, giving children little or no hopes in acquiring official documentation (ILO, 2021).
Lack of official documentation in any country, presents a challenge in accessing basic rights such as access to health and education. In Benin, 4 out of 10 children are not registered at birth and do not receive a birth certificate. As a consequence, they are often denied the right to an education and lack access to other essential services, hence leading to an increase in the informal sector and an increase in child labor.
Since January 2012, UNICEF has been involved in the distribution of more than 140,000 birth certificates that were pulled up in civil status registration centers. Through this initiative, children have access to the services they are entitled to such as health and education. According to UNHCR, a National forum on civil registration is aiming to address the hadles that prevent universal access to birth registration in Benin (UNICEF,2012).
Benin is a country with a growing economy, whose efforts such as free primary education, increase of teachers and facilities, have showed a slight increase, there is still the need for the Government to increase its efforts in ensuring 100% transition in all levels of education in both genders, this will increase the literacy rate, and eventually the economic situation to improve the lives of Beninese people.
A few recommendations would be to increase Government spending on the education sector, especially following the Government 5 years plan through its Program Action that began from 2021-2026, which sorts to increase development in various Governments sectors such as; Education challenges, Development challenges, Economic challenges. Also, Government needs to up its efforts in ensuring no child is left behind as a result of lack of identification, child labor and early marriages. The Government and its Education stakeholders need to encourage the communities especially in the rural areas that Education is an asset, and through it, an entire community benefits from new ideas, leaders and increased standards of living. Through this, the literacy rate of Benin, will increase adding to Benin workforce, that mostly depends on Agriculture, can eventually expand to other sectors such as Technology and Professional and business services hence increase Benin’s GDP.
- Constitution of Benin (1990) Art 13, Compulsory Education
- Forwerk, (2017) Borgen Magazine: Government Officials and Individuals Fight for Girls’ Education in Benin https://www.borgenmagazine.com/girls-education-in-benin/
- International Labor Organization (ILO) (2021) 2021 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor: Benin
- Nathalie (2022) Empower HER! Supporting Gender Reforms in Benin with Development Policy Financing: Gender gaps start early in life and are multi-faceted https://blogs.worldbank.org/nasikiliza/empower-her-supporting-gender-reforms-benin-development-policy-financing
- Refworld (2021) United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor affairs: Findings on the worst forms of child labor
- World Bank (2021) World Data Bank: Literacy Rate, youth (ages 15-24), gender parity index (GPI) Benin https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.1524.LT.FM.ZS?locations=BJ
- World Bank (2021) World Data Bank: Literacy rate Adult total (% of people and 15 and above)-Benin https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.LITR.ZS?locations=BJ
- World Literacy Foundation (2018), The Impact of Illiteracy and the Impact of early Intervention
- UNESCO (2023) Institute for statistics: Education System Levels
- UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (2022) Benin Sustainable Development Report: Pilot Baseline Report