Providing education for girls is a priority for this Government and this Department. In the last Parliament, we helped over 5 million girls to get the education that they need and deserve. In this Parliament we continue that work. The girls’ education challenge is the largest programme of its type in the world. Over the course of this Parliament, we will see 11 million children or more supported into education because of the work of the UK.
In Afghanistan, adult women are more than twice as likely as men to be illiterate, with a literacy rate of just 24%, compared with 51% for men. Does the Minister agree that there is much work to be done to close the gap between girls and boys in developing countries, and that it is in Britain’s interests that we continue our world-leading efforts to close that gap?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We will continue our efforts and continue our commitment. The UK Government are supporting 300,000 girls in Afghanistan to complete a full cycle of education. The drop-out rate for girls in Afghanistan is running at around 50%. We have to do what we can to tackle that—to help countries develop, to help address these imbalances and to secure a better future for those who live there, but for UK interests as well.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We need to ensure that people get the education they need and can benefit from, so that those economies can grow and those countries that have often suffered so much can develop their way out of poverty with our support. In this Parliament, the Government will be supporting over 11 million children—including, separately, 6.5 million girls—into education, including in sub-Saharan Africa. There is more work that needs to be done, but we are focused on the task at hand, and we shall ensure that we get the maximum value and benefit from the work that UK taxpayers contribute to.
HIV/AIDS continues to be the largest killer of girls in the developing world. If they cannot go to school because they are ill, they cannot fulfil their potential. What more can the Government do to ensure that girls stay healthy?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I met him only a few weeks ago in his capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, and we discussed the contribution the UK makes to the global health fund. I was delighted that, shortly thereafter, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a significant contribution from the UK. We remain a world leader in combating HIV/AIDS, as well as many other terrible diseases that affect girls and boys, and we are determined to play our part in ensuring these diseases are tackled, and ultimately eliminated, in the best and swiftest way possible.
This morning I was with Monir Mustafa of the White Helmets, who was absolutely clear that Assad’s bombs are targeting schools in Syria and the girls inside them. Has the Minister made representations to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to come to this House and bring forward a strategy to protect schools, hospitals and civilians?
We are discussing education for girls in developing countries, which was, I am sure, what the hon. Lady had very much in the forefront of her mind.
Whether it is in developing countries or those that are, sadly, impacted by some of the terrible conflicts we see across the globe today, I am proud that the Government are working with their international partners and the global community to fight those who look to do ill, and to protect those who need protecting most. In no small part, that includes those girls and boys who, so often, are the innocent victims of conflict. We are continuing to do what we can to support those who are suffering in Syria. The Department is making a very significant contribution, as is the UK taxpayer, but there is so much more that needs to be done, and I accept the point the hon. Lady makes.
When the Secretary of State appeared before the International Development Committee in September, she said she was working across Government on the implementation of sustainable development goals, but she was unable to give any details. Can she now provide an update on how her Department is leading the way to ensure that that important international framework is being fully implemented through DFID’s development work and here in the UK?
I have, indeed, as I mentioned at my last appearance at the IDC, been working across Government —I am working with the Cabinet Office as well—to ensure that all Government Departments, via their single departmental plans, will be meeting all of the SDGs. There will be an update forthcoming; I cannot give a date, but it will be quite soon, and I am sure it will be of interest to the hon. Lady when we publish it.