By Prudence Arobani
No fewer than 25 million children are kept out of school by violent conflicts, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Monday.
“Conflict and violence has driven more than 25 million children between six and 15 years old – about 22 per cent of children in that age group – from schools in war zones across 22 countries.
“At no time is education more important than in times of war.
“Without education, how will children reach their full potential and contribute to the future and stability of their families, communities and economies?
“Schools also provide a safe haven to children, protecting them from risks of abuse, exploitation and recruitment by armed groups.
“However, in numerous conflict zones around the globe, the number of children out of school is increasing dramatically,” Josephine Bourne, the Chief of Education at UNICEF, said.
According to UNICEF, at the primary school level, South Sudan has the highest rate of out-of-school children with close to 72 per cent of children missing out on education, followed by Chad (50 per cent) and Afghanistan (46 per cent).
These three countries also account for highest rate of girls who are out of school, at 76 per cent for South Sudan, Afghanistan (55 per cent) and Chad (53 per cent).
Similarly, at the lower-secondary level, the highest rates are in Niger (68 per cent), South Sudan (60 per cent) and the Central African Republic (55 per cent).
UNICEF said out-of-school rates for girls spike for this age group: nearly three quarters of girls in Niger and two in three in both Afghanistan and the Central African Republic are not in school.
To help raise awareness on the challenges that children affected and uprooted by conflict face in accessing school, UNICEF has been working with Muzoon Almellehan, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee and education activist.
Almellehan fled the violence in her home country about four years ago with her school books as her only belongings.
She spent nearly three years in Jordan, including 18 months in Za’atari refugee camp, where she made it her personal mission to get more girls into education, UNICEF said, noting that she went from tent to tent talking to parents to encourage them to send their children to school.
Almellehan has travelled to areas affected by conflict, including Chad and Nigeria and spoken to children facing these challenges, UNICEF said.
“Conflict can take away your friends, your family, your livelihood, your home. It can try to strip you of your dignity, identity, pride and hope.
“But it can never take away your knowledge. Meeting children in Chad who had fled Boko Haram reminded me of my own experiences in Syria.
“Education gave me the strength to carry on. I wouldn’t be here without it,” UNICEF quoted Almellehan as saying.
UNICEF said it was running programes to get children back to learning, providing catch-up education and informal learning opportunities, training teachers, rehabilitating schools and distributing school furniture and supplies.
It, however, said in spite of these efforts, funding shortfalls are affecting its efforts and only 40 per cent of the UN agency’s 2017 education funding needs in Chad have been met. (NAN)