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UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11, 2010 (IPS) – The relentless attacks on educational institutions in war zones – along with growing threats against academics, teachers and school-going children – have jeopardised one of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – education for all by 2015.
As a result, over 40 million children worldwide are missing out on primary school, particularly in conflict-affected fragile states, says a new report released here by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Many of the children are forced to miss school “due to direct attacks on their learning spaces, their teachers or even on themselves as learners.”
“In situations of armed conflict and insecurity, deliberate attacks on, and threats against learners, academics, teachers and educational facilities are both a barrier to the right to education, and a serious protection issue,” says Mark Richmond, director of UNESCO’s division for the coordination of U.N. priorities in education.
The commitment made by the international community to achieve the goal of “education for all” (EFA) by 2015 has been threatened by these attacks, he adds.
In Afghanistan, the number of attacks on schools, students and staff nearly tripled: from 242 to 670 between 2007 and 2008.
In Pakistan, 356 schools were destroyed or damaged in one small region at the centre of a battle between the army and the Taliban.
In India, about 300 schools were reportedly blown up by Maoist rebels between 2006 and 2009.
In Israeli-occupied Gaza, more than 300 kindergarten schools and university buildings were damaged or severely damaged during Israel’s three week-long air attacks in 2008-2009.
In Georgia, 127 educational institutions were destroyed or damaged in August 2008.
In Iraq, 71 academics, two education officials and 37 students were killed in assassinations and targeted bombings between 2007 and 2009.
And in Colombia, 90 teachers were murdered from 2006 through to 2008.
There were also attacks on teachers, students and teacher trade unionists in Nepal and Thailand, according to UNESCO figures.
The study, titled “Education Under Attack, 2010”, warns that attacks on education are “a grave and rising concern.”
They are carried out mostly for political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic, religious and criminal reasons – both by government forces and insurgent groups mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
“They include targeted killings, disappearances, kidnappings, forced exile, imprisonment, torture, maiming, rape by soldiers and security forces, recruitment of child soldiers, harassment and intimidation, and occupation and destruction of educational facilities,” the study says.
Asked if there was a pattern in these attacks, U.N. Under-Secretary-General Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative for children and armed conflict, told IPS that in traditional wars, universities were primarily attacked, usually as a crackdown against students and academics.
And national armies, instead of building military camps, occupied schools, she said.
In more recent wars in Africa, she added, schools were often attacked as a means for recruiting children (also in Nepal, Colombia and the Philippines), and sometimes for sexual violence.
The UNESCO studies says that these violent incidents involve the use of force in ways that disrupt and deter learning, putting educators and learners at risk in environments that should be safe, secure and protective.
The international community has made a commitment to achieving the EFA goals by 2015; wherever they occur, attacks on education threaten the realisation of those goals.
UNESCO, tasked with the global coordination of EFA, has a mandate to promote full and equal opportunities for education for all, and this includes those whose access to education is threatened or prevented by targeted violence.
In order to protect and promote the right to education whenever learners, education personnel and educational facilities come under violent attack, greater knowledge and deeper understanding are required.
Coomaraswamy told IPS that in the wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan and some parts of Asia, schools are attacked for ideological reasons – because they do not accept secular education or schools for girls.
Asked if the United Nations has influence over these destructive forces, she said: “Well, the traditional uses of schools for army camps etc… by government forces can stop.”
Sometimes, she pointed out, the United Nations and others have influence.
“We have been able to negotiate with all sides to make schools zones of peace,” she noted.
In the early years of the war in Sri Lanka, she said, this was the case. There was an understanding that schools would not be attacked and often there was no military activity on examination days.
“But things changed during the latter part of the war,” Coomaraswamy added.
Meanwhile, as part of a series of key recommendations, UNESCO has called for the establishment of a system of global surveillance of the full range of attacks on education.
Additionally, it has called for an improvement in the accountability of state and non-state actors by developing guidelines on the use of human rights law and international humanitarian law to protect education in situations of conflict and insecurity.