Armed conflict & education – UNESCO report


UNESCO expects sexual violence and rape to rob 28 million children of an education in 2011.

Rape, sometimes deliberately organised by senior political and military leaders, is singled out as the cause of the fear that makes it too dangerous to let young girls walk to school in 35 countries torn by war.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation accuses world leaders of “turning a blind eye” to the systematic rape of young girls and calls for an International Criminal Court war crimes investigation in some African countries, concluding that the world will fail to achieve all six “Education for All” targets that were set in 2000 for the year 2015.

The EFA Global Monitoring Report, entitled The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education, is endorsed by four Nobel Peace Prize winners: Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa; Oscar Arias Sánchez, former President of Costa Rica; José Ramos-Horta, President of East Timor and Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the peace prize, now exiled from Iran.

Archbishop Tutu said, “It documents in stark detail the sheer brutality of the violence against some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

The report says the effect of warfare on the education of children is going unreported: “At the heart of the crisis are systematic human rights violations which fully deserve to be called 'barbarous acts'. No issue merits more urgent attention on the international agenda.

"There is a culture of impunity surrounding egregious violations of human rights which represents a major barrier to education. Attacks on children, teachers and schools, and recourse to widespread and systematic rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war are among the starkest examples of such violations."

Nearly 42 per cent of the 67 million children denied a primary school education are living in armed conflict zones, often targeted for the rape and brutality that goes with armed conflict.

Report director Kevin Watkins, formerly head of research at Oxfam, said, “Children and education are not just getting caught in the cross-fire, they are increasingly the targets of violent conflict.

"Without prejudging outcomes of due legal process, there is no doubt that many senior political and military leaders, as well as armed militia leaders, in countries such as Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo might anticipate early receipt of an ICC arrest warrant.”

The threat of rape makes parents unwilling to allow girls to make the journey to school. In North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, fear of rape has left almost half the women aged between 17 and 22 getting less than two years education.

Kevin Watkins said, “The failure of governments to protect human rights is causing children deep harm – and taking away their only chance of an education. It is time for the international community to bring to account the perpetrators of heinous crimes like systematic rape, and to back UN resolutions with decisive action.”

UNESCO cited attacks on schools outside Africa, including Israeli military attacks in Gaza that killed 350 children and destroyed 300 schools, and notes targeted attacks by insurgents on schools in Yemen, Thailand, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fear of insurgents and bombing attacks led to the closure of more than 70% of the schools in the Helmand and Zabul provinces of Afghanistan.

"The neglect and inertia demonstrated by the international community is almost as shocking as the crimes themselves. In effect, world leaders are turning their backs on young girls who desperately need protection, and turning a blind eye to crimes against humanity."

Armed conflict has diverted public funds from education into military spending so that twenty-one of the poorest countries now spend more on arms than on basic education. Chad spends four times more on arms than education. Seven countries had reduced spending on education.

The report calculates that a 10% cut in military spending by the poorer countries would put 9.5 million more children through school.

An external financing gap in the Education for All budget now stands at 16 billion US dollars, equal to just six days of military spending by the rich countries.

The researchers also found that military spending by the richer countries is diverting aid from countries deemed less politically sensitive.

The poorest countries have seen educational aid from rich countries diverted to Afghanistan, where it has increased fivefold in five years, while basic education aid to African countries, like Chad and the Central African Republic has stagnated, even declining in Côte d’Ivoire.

Educational aid from the donor countries, which had doubled between 2002 and 2007, is now “stagnant”, despite progress in south and west Asia, where the number of children out of school had halved since 1999 and in sub-Saharan Africa where enrolment had risen by a third.

The report has called for a major overhaul in aid for education in the war torn countries. Education aid is only 2% of world humanitarian aid and since very few requests for humanitarian aid for education have been successful in recent years the UNESCO team outlined a two billion dollar shortfall in education financing.

They reported an “artificial divide between humanitarian aid and long-term development aid” and called on donors to increase support for countries emerging from conflict by pooling resources and overhauling the Fast Track Initiative, a multilateral fund for education that operates under World Bank auspices. Its budget, UNESCO urges, should be increase from 500 million US dollars a year to six billion US dollars a year and concentrated on war zones.

Archbishop Tutu said, “I also appeal to leaders of the rich world to provide more effective support to those on the front line. In my travels around the world I have often been humbled by the extraordinary efforts, sacrifices and determination that parents and children demonstrate in seeking education.

“When villages are attacked and people are displaced, improvised schools appear out of nowhere. Destroy a school, and the parents and kids do everything they can to keep open the doors to education. If only donors would show the same resolve and commitment.”

For the full report please visit:

Photograph: Schoolgirls in Bamozai, Paktya Province, Afghanistan


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