About 13.7 million school age children from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan are not in school because of conflict, a new UNICEF report says. It warns of 'losing a generation' of children.
Forty percent of school-aged children from five war-torn Middle Eastern countries are not attending school, the United Nations agency for children (UNICEF) said Thursday.
The report warns that a lack of education would lead to more militancy, migration and a dark future for the region as a whole.
"We are on the verge of losing a generation of children in this region," Peter Salama, UNICEF's regional chief, told the AP news agency. "We must act now or we will certainly regret the consequences."
The dropout rate could increase to 50 percent in coming months as conflicts intensify, he warned.
In a report on the impact of conflict on education in six countries and territories across the region, UNICEF says more than 8,850 schools were no longer usable due to violence.
It detailed cases of students and teachers coming under direct fire, classrooms used as makeshift bomb shelters and children having to risk crossing firing lines to take exams.
"It's not just the physical damage being done to schools," Salama said, "but the despair felt by a generation of schoolchildren who see their hopes and futures shattered."
In its report, UNICEF calls for better informal education services in countries affected by school closures and for donor nations to prioritize education funding throughout the Middle East.
The Syrian conflict - now in its fifth year - has been devastating for children. One in four schools have been closed since the conflict erupted, causing more than 2 million children to drop out and putting close to half a million in danger of losing their schooling as 52,000 teachers have left their posts.
"Even those Syrian teachers who have ended up as refugees in other countries have faced obstacles which prevent them from working," the report said.
One of the worst direct attacks on a school in the region came in Yemen, where 13 staff and four children were killed in an assault on a teachers' office in the western city of Amran.
"The killing, abduction and arbitrary arrest of students, teachers and education personnel have become commonplace" in the region, the report said.
Hundreds of schools and colleges have been closed since March, when a a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes on Iran-backed Houthi rebels who had seized the capital Sanaa and several parts of the country.
A least seven schools in Yemen have been requisitioned by warring forces to be used as makeshift barracks or shelters for displaced families, the report said.
In the embattled Gaza Strip, which saw a 50-day war last year between Hamas militants and Israel's military kill about 2,200 Palestinians and 73 on the Israeli side, the UN said at least 281 schools had been damaged, and eight "completely destroyed."
"My children were injured in a school. They saw people injured with missing hands or legs, with wounded faces and eyes," the report quoted Gaza mother-of-two Niveen as saying. "They no longer see school as a safe place."
Iraq's lack of laws on compulsory basic education, coupled with poverty, means many children work in order to help their families
Violence in Iraq, where pro-government forces are battling the self-styled Islamic State militant group has had a severe impact on the schooling of at least 950,000 children.
The report detailed scenes among the 1,200 schools in Iraqi host communities that have been turned into shelters for those displaced by violence, with up to nine families per classroom forced to prepare meals in courtyards.
Two young people carry belongings on their heads in Kuernynag in Jonglei State, which borders Upper Nile State and Unity State in May 2015
Conflict has also affected child learning in Libya - still reeling from the 2011 ouster of dictator Moammer Gadhafi - with more than half of those displaced reporting that their children have not enrolled in school.
In the second city of Benghazi alone, the UN said just 65 of 239 schools are still open.
In Sudan, the agency said high numbers of internally displaced families fleeing violence in Darfur and South Kordofan states were putting incredible strain on the country's marginal education infrastructure.
jar/jr (AP, AFP)