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800,000 Iraqi Children Not Attending School

Karen Button


September 21, 2006

Schools in Iraq will soon resume, but thousands of worried families will be keeping their children at home for fears of kidnapping or worse.

Girls are at particular risk. A joint Ministry of Interior (MoE) and UNICEF study found that of those who do not attend school, 74 percent are female children.

A recent report by the UK-based organisation Save the Children, entitled "Rewrite the Future: Education for children in conflict-affected countries," documents the effects of armed conflict on primary education in 30 countries. Some 115 million primary-aged children do not attend school for various reasons, the report says, yet by far the biggest contributor is conflict, which deprives one in three, or 43 million, from attending.

In Iraq that translates to 818,000 primary-aged children, or 22.2 percent of Iraq’s student population, who are not attending school.

Since 2003, violence has dramatically increased in a country that once enjoyed relative security. Attacks on schools by US and Iraqi government forces and civilian militias, kidnappings by organised crime, and the ever-present threat of car bombs, sniper’s bullets and random shootings all contribute to the violence.

Iraq’s education ministry reported that in the first half of the 2005 academic year alone, 64 children were killed and 57 injured in attacks on schools. Another 47 were kidnapped. Yet these numbers don’t include the children who were killed or injured on their way to or from school.

Besides violence, displacement is a contributing factor to student nonattendance. Thousands of children are from families who’ve fled US-led sieges on their communities or sectarian violence and therefore don’t have access to education.

In a June report, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) put the number of refugees inside Iraq at 1.8 million, an increase of 800,000 people from last year. Not included are the estimated 100,000-150,000 who were displaced as a result of US military operations in Ramadi this summer.

Professors have also been a target of Iraq’s violence, causing a severe shortage in teachers. In the first four months of 2005, 311 teachers and employees with the education ministry were killed and another 158 injured.

During that same time, 417 schools, including universities, had been attacked, resulting in the closure of several. According to the Ministry of Higher Education, close to 180 professors have been killed between February and August; another 3,250 have fled the country.

While there are no accurate figures for how many teachers have left Iraq since the US-led invasion, statistical records kept by the University Professors Union of Iraq show that over 10,000 professionals, including physicians, have fled the country since 2003.

Two more left just last month. Earlier this spring, I met with Saleh Mohammed and his wife Eman Hussain* in Amman. Both taught at Baghdad universities. They told me their concern was mostly for their son, who they had moved to Amman where about 500,000 other Iraqis now live. They planned, however, to stay in Baghdad, despite the danger. Now, six months later, they have left their beloved country due to the dire security situation, unsure when they might return.

"The number of teachers leaving the country this year is huge and almost double those who left in 2005," Professor Salah Aliwi, director general of studies planning in the Ministry of Higher Education reported to IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks). "Every day, we are losing more experienced people, which is causing a serious problem in the education system."

This month the MoE announced it is raising salaries by 20-50 percent in attempts to entice teachers to stay. It remains to be seen if that will make any difference. Even with the more than 13 thousand guards hired by the MoE to protect educational institutions in Iraq, it has not been sufficient to calm the violence or quell the exodus.

Once the model of education in the Middle East, twelve years of grueling sanctions and three years of bloody occupation have left Iraq’s system in shambles, a generation of children both traumatised and, it seems, deprived of education.

*Not their real names.

:: Article nr. 26885 sent on 22-sep-2006 11:28 ECT


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