Read caption Students took an exam in a field as their school was too damaged by fighting between Taliban and government forces in Archi, Afghanistan, July 10, 2017. Violence and corruption are keeping 3.5 million children out of school, according to Unicef, and hundreds of schools remain closed as fighting has spread. Dozens of districts have not seen a high school graduate in years. Foto: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times/NTB Scanpix

Armed men cut the throats of three school employees

Roald Høvring|Published 16. Aug 2018
Instead of being a safe place for learning, schools in Afghanistan are increasingly turned into military, ideological and political battlefields.

On July 1st, armed men attacked the Malikyar Hotak school in Nangarhar, a province in eastern Afghanistan. The men cut the throat of three employees at the school and set fire to the school building. The Islamic State Group had long threatened to attack the school, which they referred to as part of the "US' plan". 

Principal Atiqullah Hamdard is worried about the safety of the 1,600 students at his school but does not wish the attack to cause the school to close down. "Our students are brave, and they want to continue learning," he says.

In their latest report titled "Education under attack 2018", the international umbrella organisation GCPEA, who works to protect schools, students and teachers from attacks, has placed Afghanistan on a list of the 28 worst countries in the world for safety in schools. In all countries on the list, there have been at least 20 documented attacks on education in the past five years.

Thousands of schools affected

The attacks range from direct attacks on school buildings, attacks on students and teachers, military use of school buildings, military recruitment in or near schools, to sexual assault committed in school by soldiers and rebels.

In December 2017, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that more than a thousand schools in Afghanistan thus far have been partially or totally destroyed or are being used for military purposes.

Of 37 countries, Afghanistan was in May 2015 among the first to stand behind the international declaration for safe schools. NRC has warned governments against using schools for military purposes or as polling stations, because this increases the risk of attacks.

Attacking students and teachers

Alongside Israel/Palestine, Nigeria and the Philippines, Afghanistan is at the top of the list of countries where attacks on students and teachers are most common.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) have documented that over the past five years, globally, more than 12,700 attacks on schools, students and teachers have taken place, and that in these attacks, 21,000 teachers and students have been hurt or killed.

Attacks on girls

In 18 of the 28 countries where going to school is most dangerous, girls and female teachers have been identified as direct targets for attacks. Extremist groups have bombed or set fire to all-girls schools, and they have threatened, injured or killed girls and female teachers. In Afghanistan, one in four reported attacks on schools were attacks on all-girls schools.

"In Afghanistan, schools are increasingly often becoming targets, and we also see more and more schools being used for a variety of military and political purposes. We need to put an end to this," says Will Caster, who works for NRC in Afghanistan.

One in three fear kidnapping or being attacked

Conditions are worst in the war-torn areas of Afghanistan. A new study conducted by NRC, involving more than 1,400 internally displaced people in the provinces of Faryab, Hirat, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Kunduz, Nangarhar and Sar-e Pul, shows that 28 percent had experienced their local school closing due to the conflict. Most children felt unsafe at school and feared being attacked. 12 percent had experienced attacks on their school, and 15 percent had experienced shootings near their school. More than one in three students feared being kidnapped or attacked on their way to school. More than half of the students were in need of psychosocial help.

"Attacks on schools and students are attacks on the future of a country. Not only do these attacks destroy children's opportunity to learn and develop, but it can also cause psychosocial problems," says Annelies Ollieuz, Global Education Manager at NRC.

The situation is alarming

So far, 78 countries have signed a declaration for safer schools, an initiative led by Norway and Argentina. The declaration commits countries to contribute to protecting educational institutions and help avoid that these are used for military purposes. Nevertheless, the report from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack shows that the problem is escalating.
"It is alarming that we are failing to provide safe education for children in conflict areas, despite a consensus that schools and universities should be protected," says Annelies Ollieuz.

"Education under attack 2018"

Below are some of the findings from the report, which covers the period 2013-2017:

• Over a period of five years, more than 12,700 attacks on educational institutions took place.

• More than 21,000 students and teachers were directly affected by these attacks.

• 41 countries saw more than five attacks on education in the period, including at least one that was with purpose or lethal. This is five more countries than in the last five-year period.

• The nine worst countries are: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), Egypt, Palestine, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. These countries saw more than a thousand attacks on schools, students and teachers.

• Attacks on schools were most common in DR Congo, Palestine, Nigeria and Yemen.

• Attacks directly on students and teachers were most common in Afghanistan, Palestine, Nigeria and the Philippines.

• In 16 of the countries presented in the report, there are documented cases of armed groups recruiting child soldiers.

• In 17 of the countries presented in the report, there are documented cases of armed groups sexually abusing or raping girls in or near schools.