Friday, October 19, 2012

Barriers to Education for Conflict Affected Youth

The story of young Malala Yusoufzai captured the attention of many across the world for her courageous stance against the Taliban’s ban on educational attainment for girls. Her struggles represent the daily hardships that youth face growing up in the midst of conflict zones. For the international community, Malala sheds light on the millions of children living in conflict zones that cannot go to school safely. In fact, weeks before Malala’s incident, UNICEF endorsed an urgent call to action to ensure that these vulnerable youth can access quality education by protecting schools from attack, increasing humanitarian aid for education, and budgeting for emergencies beforehand. Malala’s incident brought the importance and significance of this issue at the forefront.
            One might wonder, how significant is the lack of education for youth in conflict zones and what is the long-term impact? According to UNESCO’s 2011 Global Monitoring Report, conflict affected areas have only a 79% literacy rate among youth compared to a 93% literacy rate among adults. Moreover, 28 million children of primary school age are out of school in conflict-afflicted countries—about 42% of the world total.  One of the many reasons attributed to the high number of kids out of school is the lack of safety; schools and schoolchildren are viewed as legitimate targets for combatants. The consequence is a growing fear among kids to attend school, among teachers to teach classes, and among parents to send their kids to school. As a result of a lack of education, UNESCO reports a high probability that these kids will grow up in poverty without skills necessary for social mobility.
            International organizations pose protecting schools from harm as the solution to an interrupted school system. However, the focus on youth in conflict zones needs to be approached more holistically, looking at the wider impacts of violence on society. First, the breakdown of social structures in society can cause deprivation of basic services, care, and safety that children need. Second, violent conflicts destroy social support networks for youth, creating a massive amount of orphans. According to the World Bank, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, there are about 13 million orphans, primarily under the age of 15. Finally, reports by the UN continue to provide evidence that rape and sexual assault is still prevalently used as a tool of war in many countries such as Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Sudan to break the family unit. Most of the targets are young girls. For those affected, rape not only brings physical harm, but psychological trauma and stigmatization within society. It also creates a sense of fear and insecurity within a victim, making them scared to leave their homes. Boys are also subject to participate in the violence as child soldiers. According to the World Bank, over 300,000 children under the age of 18 take part in armed conflicts across 30 different countries. The combined impact of all of these variables significantly reduces a child’s life chances to grow up as a healthy adult with developed cognitive and non-cognitive skills.
            While school safety is vital for the future success of these kids, it is important not to forget and work to address other deleterious effects of war that might be a barrier to a kid’s education. Only by addressing all of these concerns can kids like Malala be able to live long and healthy lives.  

Follow the link to access the full UNESCO Global Monitoring Report for 2011 titled
The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education

Aatifa Sadiq
IOFA Program Development Intern

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