A paramilitary Ranger walks by students at Pakaluesong Elementary School, Thailand. About 30 Rangers live in a camp established in the school grounds.
Photo: © 2010 David Hogsholt/Getty Images for Human Rights Watch


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In many conflicts around the world, schools are not just caught in the crossfire, they are intentionally targeted for attack. Armed groups have threatened and killed students and teachers, and burned schools. Government security forces have taken over schools for military purposes. This article suggests four ways that governments, international donors, and civil society can do more to protect education during armed conflict.

In conflict areas around the world schools, students, particularly girls, and teachers are intentionally targeted by armed groups and government security forces. Well-known are horrific attacks in Afghanistan, where men on motorbikes have sprayed pupils with gunfire and doused schoolgirls with acid to prevent them from going to school. The targeting of education in other conflicts has been less well-publicised. For example, in Somalia, the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab has turned schools into battlegrounds, using functioning school buildings and compounds to fire on opposing forces, deliberately placing students and teachers in harm’s way from often indiscriminate return fire. The group has in some cases bombed school buildings, killing students, teachers and bystanders. And the group has used schools to recruit students as fighters and to abduct girls and young women for rape and forced marriage.

Al-Shabaab have also imposed their harsh interpretation of Islam on schools in areas that they control, prohibiting English, the sciences and other subjects deemed improper, and enforcing severe restrictions on girls’ dress and interactions with male students.

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