Conflict in MENA puts 13m children out of school, UNICEF says

Almost 9,000 schools are out of use across the Middle East because they have been damaged, destroyed or are being used to shelter displaced civilians 

Escalating conflict and political turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are preventing 13.7 million children from going to school, a UNICEF report released today showed. The figure represents 40 per cent of the total number of 34 million school-age children in the region.

The report, titled Education Under Fire, examined the effects of violence on schoolchildren and education systems in nine countries that have been directly or indirectly impacted by it. These include Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Palestine.

UNICEF found that attacks on schools and education infrastructure, at times deliberate, are a main reason stopping children from attending classes. Across Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, almost 9,000 schools are out of use because they have been damaged, destroyed, are being used to shelter displaced civilians or have been taken over by parties in the conflict, the report said.

Another contributing factor to children missing out on school is the fear that leads thousands of teachers to abandon their jobs, or keeps parents from sending their children to school due to the dangers they might encounter on the way there or at school.

Syria’s civil war has raged on for more than four years, resulting in the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. It has displaced more than 11 million people and left millions more in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Neighbouring countries, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, which have taken in more than three million refugees, continue to suffer the impact. Meanwhile, the war in Yemen has left 2.9 million children out of school, and conflicts in Iraq and Sudan prevented three million children in each country from attending school.

In Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, more than 700,000 Syrian refugee children cannot go to school, as the countries’ burdened national education infrastructure is unable to cope with extra student numbers.

“The destructive impact of conflict is being felt by children right across the region,” Peter Salama, regional director for UNICEF in the MENA region, said in a press release. “It’s not just the physical damage being done to schools, but the despair felt by a generation of schoolchildren who see their hopes and futures shattered.”

While the report mentioned a number of initiatives that can help children learn even in desperate conditions, such as self-learning and expanded learning spaces, it found there was dire need for funding. The report noted the majority of children and parents caught up in conflict see education as their top priority.

UNICEF has been trying to beef up support for the cause through its No Lost Generation Initiative, which it launched in 2013, but has been facing a funding shortage. The agency called on the international community, host governments, policy makers, the private sector and other partners to reduce the number of children out of school by expanding informal education services; provide more support to national education systems in conflict-hit countries and host communities to expand learning spaces; recruit and train teachers; and provide learning materials.