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Tuesday, November 20, 2012 | Latest audio lessons → VOA Learning English

Conflict in Northern Mali Keeps Children Out of School

In West Africa, Students and teachers are busy with the new school year. However, aid workers say most of the children in northern Mali are unable to go to school. Militants including some from the group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb took control of the north in April. The Islamists are enforcing their own severe form of Sharia law in the occupied territory.

The United Nations Security Council is urging West African countries to speed up preparations for a military intervention in northern Mali. There are concerns that the conflict might spread to other countries. Large numbers of northerners have fled to the government-held south or to neighboring countries for safety.

Tom McCormack is the Sahel director for the aid group Save the Children USA. Save the Children is part of the Education Cluster, a group created by the U.N. to coordinate the emergency response in Mali. The Education Cluster says the 240,000 students remaining in the north have little or no access to education.

Cluster official Joa Keis says this increases the risk of children being recruited as child soldiers. He says children who are not in school are vulnerable to falling into the hands of armed groups. The Education Cluster surveyed 25 organizations in the north. Three-fourths of them said local schools had been vandalized or destroyed. Half reported that teachers had fled to the south. And one-third said armed groups occupy schools. Human rights groups say the Islamists are actively recruiting children as young as 12 years of age.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 25Oct2012)