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Education is a Neglected Casualty of Wars and Displacements

One of the neglected consequences of the recent wars and civilian conflicts in many parts of the world is their effect on people’s education, particularly children’s education. Because of the close connection between education and health, these events have had a severe effect on people’s health –particularly on children- and on the countries’ development.

In many of the countries in conflict there are attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities, while the military uses schools routinely for their activities. Girls and women are targets of attacks because of their gender. The recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria have had devastating effects not only because of the huge number of deaths but also for their impact on education.

Education can increase children’s nutritional levels and their health status, particularly among the poor. In India, the mortality rate among children of educated women is almost half that of children of women without formal education. In the Philippines, primary education among mothers has reduced the risks of child mortality by half, and secondary education reduces that risk by a factor of three.

Children with primary education –particularly in developing countries- can help their families make nutritional decisions that will affect the health of the whole family. The level of education in relation to health is particularly important among women. It has been found that better education, particularly among mothers, is widely associated with better children’s health. In addition, education for women is closely associated with later marriage and smaller family size.

Deteriorating conditions in Syria have led hundreds of thousands of people to leave their country and seek refuge in other places. Before the conflict, 97 percent of school-aged children in Syria attended school, and Syrian literacy rates surpassed 90 percent for men and women, above the regional average. Today, inside Syria, over 2 million children do not attend school, while more than half a million Syrian refugee children are not in school in neighboring countries.

Lebanon’s health, social and education services have borne the brunt of the huge number of incoming Syrian refugees. Lebanon has not received the proper international governmental assistance to confront this crisis. However, several NGOs have been providing succor to the Syrian refugees.

Both the Lebanese government and the Lebanese people have shown considerable understanding and willingness to help their Syrian neighbors. However, the problems created by the influx of refugees have reached such enormous dimensions that they have strained the relations between both the Syrian and Lebanese people and their governments.

Although the aid the NGOs offer to Syrian refugees is invaluable, the need is overwhelming. “During times of conflict and insecurity, maintaining access to education is of vital importance for children’s protection and development,” states Save the Children.

In the Americas, the seemingly unending waves of refugee families coming into the U.S. have jeopardized their children’s education. In many cases, immigration authorities in the U.S. mistreat those seeking asylum. Children’s education and their quality of life have suffered as a result.

The policy of separating children from their parents has had dreadful consequences, and many children suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. In many cases, the result of this separation is that children end up being cared by other children. “The care of children by children constitutes a betrayal of adult responsibility,” said Gilbert Kliman, A San Francisco psychoanalyst, who has evaluated dozens of children and parents seeking asylum.

Recent statistics indicate that by the end of 2019, around 539,000 Central Americans will be displaced, the bulk of whom will request asylum in the U.S. In 2018 alone, 49,000 children and adolescents dropped out of school in El Salvador. It is estimated that in Guatemala and Honduras, more than 2 million children may not be attending school.

In the Northern Triangle –i.e., in those three countries– individuals are escaping from a dramatic escalation in organized crime and poverty. Although in most cases whole families flee together, at times children make this dangerous trip north alone, thus becoming some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees.

Neglecting to deal with the effects of war on education will only aggravate these problems, and with its consequence on children’s health and well being. As Nelson Mandela eloquently stated, “It is not beyond our power to create a world in which all children have access to a good education. Those who do not believe this have small imaginations.”

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Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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