China's Muslim Hui community is working against acute poverty and gender discrimination to focus on keeping all girls of school-going age in the classroom. The Hui ethnic minority is descended from Arabic and Persian merchants who came to China during the 7th century. Though the majority lives in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, there are Hui people all across the country. Recently released figures show all children of school-going age in northwest Gansu province were attending primary school and the attendance rate at junior high schools had reached 95.5 percent. “This shows girl schooling, a problem that has harassed us for decades, has been settled to some extent,” Ma Yongming, deputy education chief in the Linxia region, was quoted as saying by Xinhua. Linxia, with a population of about two million, is dubbed “China's Mecca” as more than half of the residents are Muslims. Until the mid-1990s, only about 60 percent of its girls went to school. Inadequate education left 80 percent of women aged 15 and above illiterate. “While some parents refused to send girls to school because of poverty, many others believed it was a waste to spend the money on their daughters, who would be married off into other people's family and there would be no return on such investment,” said Ma. Boys, however, were often treated differently. “Parents rarely hesitated to send their sons to school. But some were reluctant to send daughters to school even if it was for free,” said Tang Yuwen, an official. To ensure equal access to schooling for all children, the Gansu provincial education department launched a Sino-British joint research project in 1999. It offered scholarship to girls and trained young women to become school teachers. In 2006, the Chinese government exempted fees for all primary and middle school students in underdeveloped regions. Officials in Linxia took the opportunity to ask parents to register all children at school. “School dropouts are reported to the education authority and the local government will hold their parents responsible,” said Ma Yongming. “We keep visiting these parents until they send their children back to school.”
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