UNESCO (Paris)

Africa: Conflict, Sexual Abuse and Aid Failures are Robbing Millions of Children of a Future, UNESCO Report Warns

press release

Armed conflict is robbing millions of african children of an education by exposing them to widespread rape and other sexual violence, targeted attacks on schools and other human rights abuses, UNESCO's 2011 Global Monitoring Report warns.

The report, "The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education," cautions that the world is not on track to achieve by 2015 the six Education for All goals that over 160 countries signed up to in 2000. Although there has been progress in many areas, most of the goals will be missed by a wide margin – and conflict is one of the major reasons.

The report is endorsed by four Nobel Peace Prize laureates: Oscar Arias Sánchez, Shirin Ebadi, José Ramos-Horta and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Introducing the report, Archbishop Tutu says: 'It documents in stark detail the sheer brutality of the violence against some of the world's most vulnerable people, including its schoolchildren, and it challenges world leaders of all countries, rich and poor, to act decisively.'

Of the total number of primary school age children in the world who do are not enrolled in school, 42% – 28 million children – live in poor countries affected by conflict.

The report sets out a comprehensive agenda for change, including tougher action against human rights violations, an overhaul of global aid priorities, strengthened rights for displaced people and more attention to the ways education failures can increase the risk of conflict.

'Armed conflict remains a major roadblock to human development in many parts of the world, yet its impact on education is widely neglected,' said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. 'This groundbreaking report documents the scale of this hidden crisis, identifies its root causes and offers solid proposals for change.'

Out of thirty-five countries that were affected by armed conflict from 1999 to 2008, fifteen are in sub-Saharan Africa. Children and schools are on the front line of these conflicts, with classrooms, teachers and pupils seen as legitimate targets.

Rape and other sexual violence have been widely used as a war tactic in many countries, including Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Insecurity and fear associated with sexual violence keep young girls, in particular, out of school.

Of the rapes reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one-third involve children (and 13% are against children under the age of 10). Unreported rape in conflict-affected areas in the east of the country may be 10 to 20 times the reported level. That would translate into 130,000 to 260,000 incidents in 2009 alone. The report calls for the end to a culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence, with stronger monitoring of human rights violations affecting education, a more rigorous application of existing international law and the creation of an International Commission on Rape and Sexual Violence backed by the International Criminal Court.

'Children and education are not just getting caught in the cross-fire, they are increasingly the targets of violent conflict,' says the report's director, Kevin Watkins.' 'The failure of governments to protect human rights is causing children deep harm – and taking away their only chance of an education. It is time for the international community to bring to account the perpetrators of heinous crimes like systematic rape, and to back UN resolutions with decisive action.'

Armed conflict is also diverting public funds from education into military spending, the report warns. Many of the poorest countries spend significantly more on arms than on basic education. In Ethiopia, the military budget is double the primary education budget. Chad, which has some of the world's worst education indicators, spends four times as much on arms as on primary schools.

Military spending is also diverting the resources of aid donor countries. It would take just six days of military spending by aid donors to close the US$16 billion Education for All external financing gap.

Donors' security agendas have led them to focus on a small group of countries while neglecting many of the world's poorest countries. Aid for basic education has increased more than fivefold in Afghanistan over the past five years, but it has stagnated or risen more slowly in countries such as Chad and the Central African Republic, and declined in Côte d'Ivoire.

The humanitarian aid system is failing children, warns the report, which calls for a major overhaul in aid to education in conflict-affected countries. Education accounts for just 2% of humanitarian aid, and only a small fraction of requests for humanitarian aid for education are met. Financing for humanitarian pooled funds must be increased to US$2 billion to cover shortfalls in education financing.

Donors also need to break down the artificial divide between humanitarian aid and long-term development aid, the report finds. More development assistance should be channeled through national pooled funds, and donors should establish more effective multilateral arrangements for pooled funding, with annual funding for the reformed Education for All Fast Track Initiative increased to US$6 billion annually.

The world's refugees and internally displaced people face major barriers to education, the report warns. The report calls on African countries to ratify the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, adopted in 2009 in Kampala, which strengthens legal protection for displaced people.

The report warns that education failures are fuelling conflict:

  1. The 'youth bulge': In many conflict-affected countries, over 60% of the population is
  2. aged under 25, but education systems are not providing youth with the skills they need to escape poverty, unemployment and the economic despair that often contributes to violent conflict.
  3. The wrong type of education: Education has the potential to act as a force for peace — but too often schools can be used to reinforce the social divisions, intolerance and prejudices that lead to war.
  4. Failures to build peace. Education needs to be integrated into wider strategies to encourage tolerance, mutual respect and the ability to live peacefully with others. Between US$500 million and US$1 billion should be channelled to education through the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, with UNESCO and UNICEF playing a more central role.

The report outlines the considerable progress that has been made in education since 2000 but warns that:

  • The number of children out of school is falling too slowly.
  • Many children drop out of school before completing a full primary cycle. In sub-
  • Saharan Africa alone, 10 million children drop out of primary school every year.
  • About 38% of the region's adults – 167 million people – still lack basic literacy skills. More than six out of ten are women.
  • Another 1.9 million teachers will be needed by 2015 to achieve universal primary
  • education, more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

The EFA Global Monitoring Report is developed annually by an independent team and published by UNESCO.

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Armed conflict is robbing millions of African children of an education by exposing them to widespread rape and other sexual violence, targeted attacks on schools and other human ... Read more »