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Conflicts Keep Millions of Children Out of School

Conflicts around the world are keeping tens of millions of young people from going to school. Many have physical or emotional injuries that make it hard or even impossible for them to learn. Later this year UNESCO will release its 2012 "Education for All Global Monitoring Report." UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The yearly publication is part of a global campaign to provide primary education to all children within the next three years. The report documents the situation in countries that have made the least progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. These goals require universal primary education and equality for boys and girls in schooling by 2015. Pauline Rose is the director of the report. She says at last count, in 35 conflict-affected countries, there were 28 million children out of school.

In some countries, schools are not even accessible in conflict zones. There are no teachers and the schools are sometimes attacked. The Geneva Conventions bar the targeting of public places like schools and hospitals. In some cases, schools are targeted because they represent the government. In other cases, schools are targeted for religious or political reasons.

Pauline Rose points to Afghanistan, where militant groups have attacked girls' schools to keep girls from getting an education. In other parts of the world, schools are often caught in the crossfire of violence. Conflicts also put girls and boys at risk of sexual violence and of being forced into war. Under international law, refugees are the only displaced people with a guaranteed right to education. But that guarantee often means little.

Last year, Pauline Rose visited camps in northern Kenya that shelter more than 250,000 refugees from Somalia. She says half the children have no access to school, and there are classes of over 300 children. What if conflict states in sub-Saharan Africa moved just 10 percent of their military spending to education? UNESCO says they could educate more than one-fourth of their out-of-school population. And in Pakistan, it says, 20 percent of the military budget could provide primary education for all children. Experts say one country has been a real success story. For years, Botswana has used its wealth from diamond exports to finance universal primary education and to create a skills base for its growing economy.

For VOA Special English, I'm Carolyn Presutti. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 21Jun2012)