Armed conflict depriving youth of education, report says

The UK-based charity organisation Save the Children has launched a global report exposing the devastating consequences of armed conflict on education in 30 countries. As the only country in the Middle East assessed, Iraq is singled out as one of the most recent problem areas.

Entitled ‘Rewrite the Future: Education for children in conflict-affected countries’, the report says that 43 million primary-age children worldwide are unable to go to school because of armed conflicts in their respective countries.

“It is a moral outrage how the world is treating these children,” said Jan Egeland, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator. Egeland is one of the report’s key international supporters.

“The international community cannot leave vulnerable children, already living with the consequences of armed conflict, without the hope of a decent future,” he said. “Children cannot wait for a conflict to end before we give them the opportunity to go to school.”

The Save the Children report says 818,000 children in Iraq, 22.2 percent of the total number of students in the country, are unable to go to school.

The Iraq government says that armed conflict is one of its most serious concerns. Ever since the US-led occupation of Iraq began in 2003, the country’s security situation has continually deteriorated.

Back from a recent tour of the Middle East, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan commented on Monday on the views of leaders he had met on Iraq’s state of affairs.

“Most of the leaders I spoke to felt that the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath has been a real disaster for them. They believe it has destabilised the region... There were two schools [of thought]. Many leaders felt that the Americans should stay until the situation improves and that, having created the problem, they cannot walk away," said Annan.

"Then, you have another school of thought, particularly in Iran, that believes that the presence of the US is a problem and that the US should leave,” he added.

Deteriorating situation

Insurgency, sectarian attacks and criminal violence are killing hundreds of Iraqi civilians every day. As a combination of this deteriorating situation and increasing poverty, more and more children are being taken out of schools by parents.

“We have observed that in the past three years, more chairs have become empty in our country’s classrooms. This problem goes from primary education to universities,” said Ahmed Yacoub, Ministry of Education official researcher.

“Attacks and kidnaps in schools have made parents afraid that the next victims would be their children. So they prefer to let them not have a proper education until the situation improves. Others require their children to start working early because poverty has risen and their [financial] help becomes more important,” Yacoub added.

Rajaa Haydar, 38, is a mother of two who falls into the first category. “My sons are out of school not because we need them to work but because we are afraid to lose them in an explosion, which happens every day in Iraq. And also because schools have become a target for insurgents and militias,” she said.

Another highlighted problem in Iraq is the increased numbers of internally displaced people since sectarian violence escalated following an attack on a revered Shi’ite shrine in the northern city of Samarra in February.

“We have thousands of displaced children in Iraq today and most of them do not have access to education,” Haydar said. “Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to help until the security situation improves.”

Among the recommendations made by the Save the Children’s report are the protection of children and teachers from violence by government forces or armed militias by ensuring that perpetrators are subject to prosecution under national law.

In addition, the report advocates the promotion of an understanding of the right to and the value of education among parents, children and the wider community.

“There are a large number of human rights problems which cannot be solved unless the right to education is addressed as the key to unlock other human rights. Education operates as a multiplier,” Katerina Tomasevski, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, was quoted to say in the report.