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Statement by Shahida Azfar, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, on education in the region

AMMAN, 20 September 2011 – “As millions of children worldwide go back to school this month, UNICEF urges authorities in countries affected by unrest in the Middle East and North Africa to make sure that children have free, equal and safe access to quality education.

“Education is the right of every child and adolescent, and the obligation of every government. Despite significant progress in recent years, there are still 4.7 million boys and girls of primary-school age and 4.3 million adolescents of lower secondary school age across the Middle East and North Africa who are out of school. Current unrest, whether in Libya, in Syria or in Yemen, threatens to deprive even more children of one of their most fundamental rights.

"In Libya, primary schools reopened on 17 September in some parts of the country, while secondary schools are due to reopen over the next two weeks. UNICEF is coordinating closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure that schools in non-conflict zones are open. This is a significant challenge considering that many classrooms have been damaged, up to 21 schools have been destroyed, and some schools are still occupied by internally displaced persons or armed groups. Landmines, abandoned munitions and unexploded ordnances continue to pose a serious threat to children, in addition to the wide presence of small arms and weapons, held at times by adolescents. UNICEF and partners are working to clear schools of explosive remnants of war.

“In Syria, UNICEF urges the government to ensure that the new school year, which started on 18 September, takes place within a safe and protective environment for children and adolescents. Activities such as school clubs and remedial classes, which were successfully implemented in Daraa during the summer, with UNICEF support, should continue and be expanded in the course of the new academic year.

“In Yemen, the unrest caused children to miss out on two months of schooling in the last academic year. There have been reports that schools have been shelled or used as military installations. In Aden and Lahj, more than 80 schools continue to be occupied by internally displaced persons. Classes have officially resumed on 17 September and yet there are many reports of schools not being able to open at all, including up to 44 schools occupied by armed forces in Sanaa.

“UNICEF reminds countries affected by unrest that Security Council Resolution 1998 recognizes schools, along with hospitals, as safe havens and calls for parties that attack such facilities to be held accountable.

“In times of unrest or conflict in particular, going to school helps children and adolescents maintain a sense of routine, teaches them important life skills, and offers them the opportunity to receive essential services including health, hygiene, nutrition and psychosocial support.

“Education is a force for social change and a key way to promote principles of conflict resolution, tolerance and equity – principles that are needed more than ever in these critical times.”

For further information, please contact:
Charbel Raji, UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa,
Tel + 962-79-731-5788,

Najwa Mekki, UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa,
Tel + 962-79-573-2745,




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