GCPEA survey finds that schools are a growing target of armed conflict
Children increasingly becoming victims as study of 70 countries reveals widespread deliberate attacks on places of learning
Schools and universities have been the target of increasing violence in recent years, an international study has found.
The survey of conflicts in 70 countries between 2009-13, which was published last week by the United States-based Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), reveals that violent assaults on educational establishments are far more widespread than previously reported.
In all, 9,600 schools in the period were documented as being damaged or destroyed by attacks that included air and missile strikes, burning, looting and armed occupation by army or guerrilla groups.
The worst-affected country was Pakistan, where more than 800 schools were deliberately attacked between 2009 and 2012, with many destroyed through explosions.
The director of the GCPEA, Diya Nijhowne, said pupils and staff were not merely caught in the crossfire in many countries but were targeted.
"Many individuals are bombed, burned, shot, threatened or abducted for attending classes or doing their job at school or university," Nijhowne said. "Many schools and universities are deliberately attacked because they are soft, easy targets, or to undermine government control, a tactic of war."
Although most of the attacks were recorded in areas of civil war or long-running unrest, in countries such as Mexico the violent struggles fuelled by the drugs trade were also a major source of attacks.
The report published on Thursday found that sustained violent attacks on education were especially prevalent in six countries - Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria - with at least 1,000 documented attacks or armed seizures in each country over three years from 2009.
It also found at least 500 cases of attacks were recorded in Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Libya, Mexico and Yemen.
The attacks included the bombing and arson of universities and schools, the shooting, abduction and imprisonment of staff, students and education trade union officials, and the forced seizure of education facilities in conflict zones.
The study's authors call on governments and international tribunals to give greater protection to education, and say the UN, regional peacekeepers and all sides in conflicts should refrain from using schools or universities for military purposes.
The study follows on from a previous survey by Unesco published in 2010, which reported on incidents in just 30 countries. The latest report has a wider scope, making comparisons difficult, but the authors of the latest version conclude: "The problem is much greater than previously known or documented."
GCPEA members include the UNHCR, Save the Children, Unicef and Human Rights Watch. Its recommendations call for international tribunals and states to give specific attention to attacks on education, and prosecute individuals responsible.