Improving education data to count minority girls in Peru

Students attend a class in school in Pachacutec shanty town northern Lima March 1, 2012. More than a million students returned to school on Wednesday for the new academic year. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil (PERU - Tags: EDUCATION SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1E83203ZZ01

Afro Peruvians, a minority group roughly 8 percent of the population of Peru, has been invisible in modern government policy for two reasons. First, ethnicity is defined by language groups and, therefore, subsumes Afro Peruvians into the Spanish-speaking population. Second, the government has been focused on the indigenous population as the most vulnerable while neglecting other minority groups. This discrimination is magnified for Afro Peruvian girls as ethnicity, poverty, and gender intersect and affect their right to a quality public education.

For both Afro Peruvian girls and boys, discrimination has impacted their chances and ultimate outcomes in life. They suffer from lower employability, lower wages, and the replication of ethnic stereotypes (as not being intelligent, for instance). In fact, the percentage of Afro Peruvian adolescents between 12 and 17 years old who are out of school is higher than other groups (Figure 1). In addition, compared to the national average of 65 percent, approximately 85 percent of Afro Peruvian children attend public schools—which are considered low-quality but often the only choice for poor households.

Afro Peruvians drop out of school because of problems such as lack of interest in school, most likely due to the poor quality of public education (22 percent of Afro Peruvian boys and girls, twice the proportion of non-Afro Peruvians, reported that they dropout because “they do not like school”) and financial woes tied to their higher levels of poverty (29 percent of Afro Peruvian children reported financial difficulties as a reason for dropping out of school, 5 percent more than non-Afro Peruvians). Afro Peruvian girls have the additional issue of early unwanted pregnancy (11.9 percent of adolescents mentioned teen pregnancy as a reason to drop out secondary education) that prevents them from completing school. Data shows that teen pregnancy has not declined in the last 20 years in Peru and that it is intimately linked to lack of sexual education and sexual abuse. A longitudinal study conducted by Young Lives in four countries—including Peru—found that teen pregnancy is more common for girls from single-parent households, and with low levels of education, low socio-economic status, and low educational aspirations. Every day in Peru, four girls between 11 and 14 years old become pregnant. Of this group, men older than 20, are responsible for 51 percent of these pregnancies—showing the prevalence and high tolerance to sexual abuse.

While the government of Peru has tried to improve access to education for poor people, the lack of disaggregated data has made it difficult to measure the impact of specific programs on specific vulnerable minorities. For instance, programs such as Juntos (a 13-year-old conditional cash transfer program with conditionalities on school attendance) or policies such as Law 27558 (passed 17 years ago to promote education for girls and adolescents living in rural areas) were directly linked to girls’ education but collected no records of how many Afro Peruvian girls benefited. The National Statistical Institution of Peru (INEI) has started producing disaggregated quality data on other minorities—recently in the national census 2017—that is needed to effectively assess policies and programs. More recently, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, in alliance with civil society organizations and the technical support of INEI, have led several efforts to make Afro Peruvians more visible in public policies.

As an Echidna Global Scholar, I will extend these efforts through my research on the vulnerability of Afro Peruvian girls and the opportunities to improve their access to quality public education within existing programs and policies. My research aims to make feasible recommendations to improve the disaggregation of data using a cultural delineation of ethnicity/race rather than a linguistic one. Having baseline data that is disaggregated in this way, will help policymakers and project leaders tailor their interventions—for instance, in programs like Juntos—to the needs of specific minority populations that remain invisible under a linguistic categorization.

The U.N. General Assembly proclaimed 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent under the theme of “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development” aiming to achieve their full and equal participation in all aspects of society. At the national level, Peru has been promoting inclusion, gender equality, and non-discrimination as key pillars of its public policies at all levels. However, these efforts are aimed mostly at one specific minority—the indigenous populations. There are other minority groups, such as Afro Peruvians, that also need the State to guarantee their rights. Providing evidence on an under-studied minority in Peru is thus not only relevant in terms of improving access to education and closing gender gaps, but also crucial to calling attention to the basic human rights of all minorities in Peru, and revisiting our definition of inclusion and non-discrimination.