The paper uses a combination of questionnaire data and children's drawings to explore the reasons contributing to temporary and permanent absence from school of orphans, children from disjointed families and children who live with both parents. Particular attention is paid to differences between these three groups of children and between girls and boys. It is shown that the most important reasons for absenteeism are closely related to poverty, and that poverty is not necessarily related to orphanhood. Orphans, to the same extent as other children, are absent from school primarily because of high (but recently diminished) costs of schooling and because of having to work to contribute to their households' livelihoods. Furthermore, orphans, children from disjointed families and children who live with both parents are shown to have similar work schedules when they do not attend school. On the other hand, the reasons for absence from school and absentee children's work schedules are found to be strongly gendered. Girls are more likely to drop out of school or never to attend school because of the direct costs of schooling. Girls spend more time than boys doing domestic work and looking after young siblings and are more likely than boys to fail to go to school because they are needed in the house. The same holds for boys and farm work, cattle herding and the shooting of wild animals. A second group of reasons the paper flags as being important in triggering absence from school are related to the quality of the schools system - particularly unfair beating by teachers, difficulties in obtaining transfer reports and bribery. Rather than a particular policy focus on orphans, a continuing focus on poverty reduction is seen as imperative in getting and keeping children in school. Similarly, striving for gender equality needs to remain a priority. More specific suggestions include to subsidise or abandon school uniforms, the last remaining large direct cost deterring families from sending their children to school; to offer primary schooling in the afternoons would help children to fit house and farm work around schooling; to raise the quality of the in-school experience by more vigorous enforcement of the existing legislation to minimise corporal punishment and by addressing issues of corrupt, bureaucratic structures of individual schools.
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