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Somalia: Generations of Uneducated Children

The ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Somalia are taking a severe toll on the school system. Enrollment has plummeted and years of war have resulted in generations of uneducated children.

Thursday, UN and humanitarian agencies condemned recent attacks on students, teachers and schools in Mogadishu and elsewhere. More than 20 agencies are part of what's called the "Education Cluster for Somalia," which supports primary education. They're calling on donors and the international community to make education a priority.

Maulid Warfa is the coordinator of the education cluster and works with UNICEF. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about conditions affecting education in Somalia.

"What we have is 17 years of absence of a state. And education has been really weakened by the conflict and other dramatic and man-made disasters in Somalia. We have a situation where, in general, only 30 percent of school age children are enrolled in school (countrywide). And in South Central Somalia…only 20 percent of school age children – and here I'm referring to ages between six and thirteen – are enrolled in schools," he says.

Warfa says the education system is at risk. He says, for example, "In Mogadishu…of late…we have reports of two schools being attacked and five students being injured and two teachers injured. And again, two days ago, we had a situation where two teachers were killed."

He says there are reports of children not having access to schools. "Mogadishu is particularly bad when it comes to education," he says.

Why would armed groups attack students, teachers or schools? Warfa says he doesn't know. "We see that as an abuse to human rights and a violation of all the international treaties and rights to children," he says.

Both children and parents are losing confidence in the school system because of the attacks. "If schools that are supposed to be the safe haven for children and teachers and parents became unsafe, of course, the children will not feel confident," he says.

Years of conflict and a lack of government have taken their toll on Somali society. Warfa says, "We already have generations that are uneducated." He says many militia members, checkpoint guards and pirates were uneducated children, and "if the situation continues…specifically in South Central Somalia, we will absolutely have a situation where we don't know where to start. Just think of…a country where only 20 percent of the school age children go to school and the literacy rate is a little above 20 percent. Where will development come from? Who will develop that country?"

Warfa says that he wants all warring parties to consider schools a safe haven. "If there's no education, there's no life."