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Schools Threatened With Closure In Camps In Northwestern Pakistan

  • Lisa Schlein

The United Nations Children's Fund warns it may be forced to shut down schools for more than 19,000 children in camps for internally displaced people in Northwestern Pakistan by the end of the month because it has run out of cash. UNICEF is appealing to donors to come up with the money to keep these children in school.

Fighting between the Pakistan government and Taliban militia in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Province has displaced more than 1.3 million people. Most are living with impoverished host families. But, about 125,000 displaced people are living in camps.

The United Nations Children's Fund estimates 60 percent of the displaced are children. UNICEF spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, tells VOA these children need urgent health and nutrition, protection services and a hygienic environment. She says they also need education.

"These children are coming from a region where there was already very little education. Only 17 percent of girls were going to school and 93 percent of women were illiterate. So, those schools are very, very important for these kids in displaced camps," she said.

UNICEF has appealed for $1.4 million to enable 24,000 children to continue their primary school education. But, Berthiaume notes, only six percent of that amount has been received. She says this is only enough to provide schooling for 5,000 children.

She warns children who do not go to school are subject to violence and delinquency. She says they will lose the structure that can give them a sense of security and stability. "Children that are in displaced camps are living in conditions that are not normal conditions. A child should not live in a camp. He should be in a house, in his village, in his town and go to school there. So, not only is it important that a child get an education, but it also is important to give him, as well, a certain sense of normality and give him more confidence," she said.

UNICEF says its request for assistance last year was met with a generous response from donors. That was when the conflict between the Pakistan Government and Taliban militia was at its height. That was when television screens were inundated by dramatic images of millions of people fleeing their homes.

But, the UN Children's Fund notes the situation now has calmed down and this apparently has resulted in a loss of interest in the plight of the displaced. It says the biggest losers are the children. It says they continue to suffer from insecurity and displacement, but are not receiving the support they need.