The Central Sahel has seen a significant spike in attacks on students, teachers, and schools since 2018, according to a new report released on Tuesday by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).
The report was launched ahead of the first ever United Nations International Day to Protect Education from Attack on September 09.
The report titled ’Supporting Safe Education in the Central Sahel’ noted over 85 attacks on education in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger between January and July, despite COVID-19-related school closures between late March and May.
At least 27 attacks on middle schools were recorded in Mali when schools reopened for children to take their exams in June.
In Burkina Faso and Niger, attacks on education more than doubled between 2018 and 2019, contributing to the closure of more than 2,000 schools. In Mali, over 60 attacks on education took place in 2019 alone, with over 1,100 schools closed.
Non-state armed groups targeted state education across the Central Sahel, most commonly by burning and looting schools and threatening, abducting, or killing teachers, the report said.
State forces and non-state armed groups also used dozens of schools for military purposes, including as camps and temporary bases.
Female students and educators are specifically affected by attacks, GCPEA found. Pregnancy from rape, the health consequences and stigma of sexual violence, the risk of early marriage, and the privileging of boys’ education over girls’ all make it particularly difficult for girls to return to school.
“The International Day to Protect Education from Attack is a crucial moment to highlight the scope and enormous cost that attacks on education has on the lives and futures of students and communities,” said Diya Nijhowne, executive director of GCPEA.
“But it is also a time to recognize the significant progress made towards protecting students and educators, including through widespread adoption of the Safe Schools Declaration and advances in its implementation.”
The Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment to protect students, educators, schools, and universities in armed conflict, currently has 104 state signatories.
By endorsing the declaration, countries commit to take concrete steps to protect education in armed conflict, including by using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.
GCPEA calls for coordinated, targeted, and sustainable support to implement the Safe Schools Declaration and keep students, teachers, and educational facilities across the Central Sahel safe from attack.
As the three Central Sahel countries confront interlinked humanitarian crises, regional efforts should also be taken to reinforce monitoring and reporting of attacks and develop prevention and response plans.
The Ministerial Roundtable on the Central Sahel, to be hosted by Denmark, Germany, the European Union, and the UN on October 20, provides a key opportunity to place protection of education firmly on the humanitarian agenda.
“On this first International Day to Protect Education from Attack and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and donors should act to keep students and educators, schools, and universities safe from attack in the Central Sahel and globally,” Nijhowne said. (Source: HRW)