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UN: School Girls in Dozens of Countries Subject to Regular Attacks

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - A Shi'ite student of Imamia Students Organization (ISO) holds a placard during a protest against an attack by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar.

FILE - A Shi'ite student of Imamia Students Organization (ISO) holds a placard during a protest against an attack by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar.

A new study finds millions of girls in at least 70 countries are subjected to widespread attacks that are occurring with increasing regularity to prevent them from receiving an education. The report by the United Nations Human Rights Office finds schools and infrastructure in 24 of these countries also are used for military purposes.

While celebrating the achievements of the past two decades in ensuring that millions of girls around the world have access to education, the study also highlights the current grim state of girls’ education.

U.N. statistics show about 65 million children do not attend school, particularly in countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and West Asia. The report documents many cases between 2009 and 2014 of physical attacks against girls, parents and teachers advocating for gender equality in education.

Some of the attacks cited have made headlines and shocked people by their cruelty. These include the killing in December 2014 of more than 100 children by the Taliban at an army school in Pakistan, the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria in April 2014 and the 2012 shooting of the young Nobel Peace Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, by members of the Taliban in Pakistan.

The chief of the Women’s Human Rights and Gender Section at the U.N. Human Rights Office, Veronica Birga, says many other alarming attacks against girls never make the headlines. For instance, she cites cases of acid attacks and poisoning by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“A number of girls were abducted from a Christian school in India and raped in 2013. In Somalia, girls have been forcibly removed from school to become so-called wives of Al-Shabab fighters. And, in countries such as Mali, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, very strict dress codes have been imposed through the use of violence including sexual violence on schoolgirls," said Birga.

The report notes attacks on girls do not take place only in countries in conflict. They also occur in situations of high criminality or political instability, which is the case in a number of countries of Central America.

It says girls are attacked by those who are opposed to their education as a means of social change. They believe education is wasted on girls whose role is to remain at home. It says the common cause of all these attacks is discrimination.

Birga says girls who are prevented from going to school are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

“They are more exposed to child and forced marriages. They are more exposed to trafficking. They are more exposed to worst forms of child labor. And, more in general, a girl that is not educated will face consequences throughout her life. A girl or a woman who is not educated is less likely to be aware of her rights and less likely to be able to claim them," she said.

The report urges governments to make the perpetrators of attacks against schoolgirls, their parents and teachers accountable for their actions. It says the message that violence against girls is acceptable is reinforced when attacks are met with impunity.