HARARE               -            Parents in Zimbabwe could face up to two years in jail if they fail to send their children to school.The government has made education compulsory up to the age of 16 to stem rising school dropout figures blamed on the poor state of the economy.

It is estimated that in some parts of the country 20% of children do not go to school. The new law also makes it is an offence to expel children for non-payment of school fees or for becoming pregnant.Last year at least 60% of the children in primary school were sent home for failing to pay fees, according to the state’s Zimbabwe

Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac).Zimbabwe’s first leader Robert Mugabe, a former teacher who died last year, was praised for the education policies he adopted after independence

in 1980. The school system he established gave black Zimbabwean greater access

to education as hundreds of state schools were opened, leading to Zimbabweans enjoying

among the highest literacy

rates in Africa.However, free education ended in the 1990s and in the following decade the education system began to crumble.The education law has been amended to make sure children in Zimbabwe go to school for a total of 12 years, five years more than was previously prescribed. Parents are now also in the firing

line if their offspring fail to go to school.They face up two years in jail - or a $260 (£200) fine if they can afford to pay it - if their children are found not to be attending

classes.The BBC’s Shingai Nyoka in the capital, Harare, says it seems to be a bold attempt to force parents to prioritise education during an economic crisis. But some believe the government

is shirking its responsibilities

amidst broken promises to provide free basic education and a chronic shortage

of state schools.The high drop-out rate has also been blamed on pregnancy, early marriages, the long distances

to schools and a lack of interest, our reporter adds.Parents have been spending

less on education as they struggle to buy food. Fees at government-run schools must be paid up front and range from between $30 (£23) and $700 a year, depending on where they are based. Last year, parents spent a third what they did in 2018 on education, says ZimVac. In a sign of the desperate times, makeshift schools in poor areas of the capital, like Epworth, have been sprouting up in homes and backyards. They are unregistered - and therefore illegal. They can work out cheaper - about $3 a month - though their main draw is their flexibility about when the fees are paid.Eunice Maronga, who runs one of these schools, says the children bring in money if and when they can. They are also more flexible about uniforms, though a $3-education has its drawbacks: no desks and