NAIROBI (AlertNet) - Armed conflict is depriving 28 million children of an education worldwide, yet donors are failing to provide funds for more schooling, a U.N. report says.
In total 67 million children are out of school. But in countries suffering insecurity and conflict, it is the fear of children being raped on their way to school or bombed in the classroom that keeps millions away, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says.
Security fears have led to 70 percent of schools in Afghanistan's Helmand province being closed. In Gaza, Israeli military attacks in 2008 and 2009 left 350 children dead, another 1,815 wounded and 280 schools damaged.
Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two-thirds of children in conflict-affected areas are out of school.
“Children and schools today are on the front line of armed conflicts, with classrooms, teachers and pupils seen as legitimate targets,” said the UNESCO report, The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education.
Pauline Rose, one of the authors of the report, added that: “Limited education opportunities, or the wrong type of education, is in many countries fanning the flames of conflict."
“The danger of the mismatch between hopes and aspirations of young people and limited opportunities available to them is visible on the streets of north Africa today.”
In the last two months, protesters in the Middle East have forced ageing dictators in Tunisia and Egypt to step down. Many of the demonstrators were young people angry at the lack of jobs and equity in their countries.
Without the opportunity to go to school or work, frustrated, idle young men are vulnerable to recruitment by militias, UNESCO said, citing Somali al-Shabaab rebels who have been active in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp.
“Al-Shabaab has people recruiting here,” a young Somali boy in the camp told the report’s authors. “Some boys who haven’t been able to continue their education have already left the camp to go back to Mogadishu and fight," he added.
A whole generation of Somalis has grown up in Daadab refugee camp over the last 20 years. Only half of these 100,000 school-age refugees are getting an education. Those lucky enough to attend school squeeze into ill-equipped classrooms designed for less than a third of their number.
Yet last year, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in Kenya received 20 percent of the $30 million it needed to educate refugee children.
The bigger picture is even gloomier.
Education receives just two percent of humanitarian aid and is the most underfunded sector with only 38 percent of requests met -- half the average received by the food, water, shelter and health care appeals.
The UNESCO report was highly critical of the humanitarian aid system which it describes as “underfinanced, unpredictable and governed by short-termism”.
It called for pooled funding of humanitarian aid – which is used to address forgotten crises – to be scaled up and used to top up shortfalls in education funding. The funds should allow flexible, multi-year support in protracted situations, such as Somalia.
Donors should also recognise that education is life-saving, just like emergency shelter and health care.
“By increasing the education of mothers, young girls and boys actually are more likely to stay alive, less likely to be malnourished and therefore to have improved life chances,” Rose said.
The report described maternal education as “a highly efficient vaccine” against life-threatening health risks for children. If all women in sub-Saharan had secondary education, the death rate for children under-five would fall by 41 percent, saving 1.8 million lives per year, it said.
Donors' short-termism blinds them to the long-term benefits of educating refugees, particularly beyond the primary school level, the report said.
There has been a massive influx of former refugees into South Sudan since the war ended in 2005. “These are the current engineers and the doctors who are working on the reconstruction of South Sudan,” said James Karanja of UNHCR.
While it would cost $16 billion to send all of the world’s children to primary school, this amounts to just six days of military spending by some of the world’s richest countries.
The way the aid is distributed suggests it is heavily skewed towards countries which are of strategic importance to major donors. For example, Pakistan received twice as much as DRC and Sudan combined.