A new UNICEF report shows that over 13 million children from the Middle East and North Africa are being prevented from going to school by conflicts, highlighting that education institutions must remain safe sanctuaries.
Only a few years ago the Middle East and North Africa region had a goal of universal education well within its reach, today, millions of displaced children are being deprived of a basic education, according to the UNICEF report entitled Education Under Fire, released on 2 September.
Highlighting what it calls a “disastrous situation” involving nine countries which are being affected – either directly or indirectly – by armed conflict, the reports notes that the hopes of an entire generation are at stake unless the international community acts.
Surging conflict and political turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa is preventing 13.4 million young people, or 40 percent of the affected area’s school-age population, from going to school.
“Attacks on schools and education infrastructure — sometimes deliberate — are one key reason many children do not attend classes,” the report says.
In Syria, which once had one of the world’s highest literacy rates, the conflict has reversed more than two decades of expansion of access to education.
In Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya alone, the report says, nearly 9,000 schools are out of use because they have been “damaged, destroyed, are being used to shelter displaced families or have been taken over by parties to the conflict.”
Other reasons, it insists, include “the fear that drives thousands of teachers to abandon their posts, or keeps parents from sending their children to school because of what might happen to them along the way — or at school itself.”
While death, mayhem, hunger and disease are among the most obvious risks to civilians in these conflict zones, the collapse in primary education is another compelling reason for families with young children to flee.
In Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where millions of Syrians have fled since the war in their homeland began in 2011, more than 700,000 refugee children are unable to attend school because the education systems in those countries cannot cope with the extra load, the report says.
The report findings highlight how the conflict in Syria has displaced 7.6 million people inside the country and has driven more than four million refugees abroad – mainly to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Families from Syria and Iraq have featured strongly among the desperate migrants arriving in Europe in recent months – and among those who perished in the attempt.
The report stresses another alarming issue: If children are not in school, they are often working, and exploited in hazardous jobs.
As well as children, the report also details how teachers are being dragged into the firing line “time and again,” with some having been detained, intimidated, injured – and sometimes even killed – forcing them to abandon their jobs and flee for their lives.
The regional director for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa, Peter Salama, underlined how the destructive impact of conflict is being felt by children right across the region and said: “It is not just the physical damage being done to schools, but the despair felt by a generation of schoolchildren who see their hopes and futures shattered.”
He went on explaining that UNICEF needs an additional $300million USD this year to try to improve access to education in the region, of which the UN agency has, so far, managed to accumulate $140 million USD.
In order to deal with the situation, the UNICEF report is calling on the international community, host governments, policy makers, and the private sector to:
· Reduce the number of children out of school through the expansion of informal education services, especially for vulnerable children;
· Provide more support to national education systems in conflict-hit countries and host communities to expand learning spaces, recruit and train teachers, and provide learning materials; and
· Advocate for the recognition and certification of non-formal education services in countries affected by the Syrian crisis.