A school is supposed to be a safe place for children to learn. It is difficult to imagine that children would be forced to run away from school for fear of attack, much less callously targeted, but this is exactly what happened to Sita, a 12-year-old Malian, and Motasem, a 16-year-old Syrian, whose education was uprooted by fighting. Sita now lives in a makeshift camp for internally displaced people in Sevaré, central Mali, while Motasem is a refugee in Lebanon. They do not know whether they can ever return to school.
To mark the 16th birthday of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban as she was on the way to school in Pakistan in October 2012, we have released a new paper today, ‘Children battling to go to school’, in partnership with Save the Children, to show the extent of the crisis these children are facing. The paper shows that Malala, Sita and Motasem, are not alone: 28.5 million children in conflict-affected zones are unable to go to school. These children now make up 50% of those denied an education, up from 42% in 2008, figures that we calculated for the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education.
The progress in getting children into school over the past few years – however slow –has clearly not reached children in conflict-affected countries. The longer these children remain out of school, the lower the probability of them ever returning to school. As conflicts become protracted these children risk becoming a lost generation.
Of the 28.5 million primary school age children out of school in conflict-affected countries, almost half (12.6 million) live in sub-Saharan Africa, 5.3 million live in South and West Asia, and 4 million live in the Arab States. The majority – 95% – live in low and lower middle income countries. Girls, who make up 55% of the total, are the worst affected, as they are often victims of rape and other sexual violence that accompanies armed conflict.
As we analysed in depth in the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, countries embroiled in conflict are often overlooked in the international aid structure. The situation has worsened in recent years. In 2012, education accounted for just 1.4% of humanitarian aid, down from 2% in 2009. These funds meet only around a quarter of the amount needed, the largest gap registered for any humanitarian sector, leaving a huge funding deficiency of $221 million.
Governments identified conflict as a major barrier towards getting all children into school when they signed the Dakar Framework for Action in 2000. They recognized that children in conflict-affected countries are robbed of an education not only because schools may be closed and teachers absent, but also because they are exposed to widespread abuses. This is confirmed by the visual database of inequalities in education, the World Inequality Database on Education, developed by the EFA Global Monitoring Report, showing how access to education varies hugely depending on whether a child lives in a conflict affected region of a country or not.
The world can no longer continue to sit back and watch Malala, Sita Molasem and millions of other children fight for an education. Classrooms, teachers and pupils will continue to be seen as legitimate targets unless there is tougher action against human rights violations, a reassessment of global humanitarian aid priorities, strengthened rights for displaced people, and a realization that education failures exacerbate conflicts. It is time for action to be taken. The crisis of education in conflict is no longer hidden: there is no excuse for not helping to bring it to an end.