Mali Conflict Keeps Children Out of School
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report in Special English.
Students and teachers are busy with the new school year in Mali and throughout West Africa. 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. Tom Mccormack is the Sahel director for the aid group Save the Children USA. He says there has not been enough information from northern Mali to fully understand the situation.
“We are very concerned that education is not being provided for all children. We’re concerned that funds need to be made available to assist children, particularly those who have been displaced by the fighting, have not been made available, especially for education in this emergency response that we and other actors on the ground here are trying to respond to.”
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 two hundred forty thousand students remaining in the north have little to no access to education. Cluster official Joa Keis says this increases the risk of children being recruited as child soldiers.
“It’s been shown that out-of-school children are particularly vulnerable to falling into the hands of armed groups given the situation in northern Mali. With the presence of several armed groups controlling the area, it is particularly important that we use education as a means of protecting children from the potential for ongoing use of child soldiers.”
Human rights groups say the Islamists are actively recruiting children as young as twelve years old.
The Education Cluster surveyed twenty five 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.
Save the Children also says flooding has affected an additional sixty thousand children across Mali.
Yet financial assistance for the country remains low. Joa Keis says last year's humanitarian appeals process met just four percent of the goal.
Teachers and local organizations say they have kept some schools operating in the north by negotiating compromises with armed groups. Subjects like philosophy and biology are often not allowed. Girls and boys must often be separated. And some schools are only allowed to teach in Arabic, a language that most of the students do not even speak.
Contributing: Peter Tinti and Jerilyn Watson