In a politely worded letter from Human Rights Watch, Senegalese President Macky Sall was highly commended for addressing abuses against street children including those exploited in the course of their education in the Koran.

“We have conducted human rights research on children in Senegal since 2005,” the New York-based group wrote. “Our most recent report (July 2017) welcomes the important move by the Senegalese government to protect street children including Talibes.”

In light of this commitment to education, the President should be aware that secondary education is not fully free for all students in Senegal, the rights group wrote.

HRW, in interviews with 150 adolescent girls, their parents, teachers, village leaders, government officials, and others, heard repeatedly of unaffordable tuition fees, fees for school materials, furniture costs and extra tuition for afternoon classes.

On account of these fees, girls were unable to pay for their education, the group learned. Some girls dropped out. The fees were particularly burdensome in rural areas.

Failure to complete school raises the risk of child marriage and teenage pregnancy, they said.

Where girls’ participation is already low, principals and teachers said they personally pay the students’ fees to ensure students stay in school. “This shows the significant burden school fees place on a community,” the rights group said.

In a worst case scenario, girls are lured into jobs as domestic workers in bigger cities, in some cases under exploitative and abusive conditions, including sexual abuse. Although some return to their villages or towns to resume their studies, others end their education abruptly and continue working.

Numerous studies show that girls who continue their education, especially through secondary school, are more likely to invest in their own children’s education, enabling them to become economically independent and positive contributors to society.

For all these reasons, we respectfully urge you to make secondary education fully free in 2018, remove school fees and increase financial support to schools.

Free education for girls is sure to be on the agenda of the Global Partnership for Education Financing Conference to be held Feb. 2 in Dakar, Senegal. The conference, held once every 4 years, will be co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and Senegalese President Sall.