Almost 50 million children out of school in conflict-affected countries, whilst attacks on education rise

Almost 50 million children living in conflict-affected countries around the world are being denied the chance of going to school whilst the number of reported attacks on education is rising.

Bullet holes in the classroom in El Jeel Eljaded School, Libya. Photograph Jenn Warren/Save the Children

The number of reported incidents of children being stopped from accessing education, physically attacked or recruited by armed groups has increased sharply over the past year, after monitoring efforts were stepped up in the face of the deteriorating situation in Syria and concerns over girls’ access to education in parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. 

In our new report, Attacks on Education: The impact of conflict and grave violations on children’s futures, we document the impact of conflict on education, and include new research done for Save the Children by UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report (GMR) that finds 48.5 million children living in conflict areas are currently out of school, more than half of them at primary age. 

The conflict in Syria has contributed to the sharp increase in the number of reported incidents. Of more than 3600 incidents recorded in 2012, over 70%were in Syria.

The new research comes as Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai addresses the UN General Assembly in her first public speech since she was attacked by gunmen on her way to school in Pakistan last October.

The report finds:

  • Of the nearly 50 million children aged between six and 15 out of school in conflict-affected countries in 2011, 28.5 million were primary school children, over half of them girls.
  • In 2012, there were more than 3,600 documented attacks on education, including violence, torture and intimidation against children and teachers, resulting in death or grave injuries, the shelling and bombing of schools and the recruitment of school-aged children by armed groups.
  • Since the start of the Syria conflict, 3,900 schools have either been destroyed, damaged or are being occupied for purposes other than education.

In addition to the research, we have gathered first-hand testimonies of children caught up in attacks on education:

  • I am in ninth grade but this war stopped me from graduating – I should have graduated and gone to high school, to start building my future but no… my future is destroyed. –  Motassem, 16, Syria
  • The day the rebels came, they destroyed the school. They went into the headmaster’s office and destroyed everything; they destroyed the students’ papers. – Salif, 13, Mali
  • Young people in the village are approached by guerrillas to recruit them. My cousin was tricked into going with them four months ago and I haven’t heard from her in a month. – Paula, 15, Colombia

Desmond Bermingham, Director of Save the Children’s Education Global Initiative said  “Education offers children in some of the toughest parts of the world the chance of a brighter future. The attacks highlighted in our report are an attack on that future, robbing children of the chance to learn. The classroom should be a place of safety and security, not battlegrounds where children suffer the most appalling crimes. Children who are targeted in this way will be paying the price for the rest of their lives.”

Pauline Rose, Director of the Global Monitoring Report, said: “Conflict is holding back progress, preventing millions of children from going to school every year. Our new analysis shows that children out of school in conflict affected countries are being forgotten. Many of the affected children will never resume their education, and will be scarred physically and psychologically for life.”

Despite the high levels of children out of school and the sharp increase in attacks, levels of funding for education in humanitarian emergencies remain shockingly low. Education funding has continued to fall from 2% of overall humanitarian funding in 2011 to only 1.4% of overall humanitarian funding in 2012, below the 4% that the global community has been calling for since 2010.

Save the Children is calling on world leaders to tackle this crisis, committing to the following:

  • Protect education by criminalising attacks on education, prohibiting the use of schools by armed groups and by working with schools and communities to adopt local measures to preserve schools as centres for learning –especially in a conflict.
  • Cover the funding gap by increasing the current levels of humanitarian funding to education and progressively work towards reaching a minimum of 4% of global humanitarian funding.


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