NEW YORK: With 500 attacks on schools documented in just six months, 2017 is shaping up as a record year for the number of schools bombed and destroyed in war zones like Yemen, South Sudan and Syria, a UN official said on Friday.
Last year, the United Nations was able to verify 753 attacks on schools and hospitals in 20 countries wracked by conflict as the world body seeks to track the violence and find ways to better protect children.
Virginia Gamba, the UN special representative for children in armed conflict, told an informal Security Council meeting that attacks appeared to be on the rise this year.
“It is no consolation that in the last six months alone, over 500 schools have already been attacked, which means we might be able to break this record at the end of this year,” Gamba told the council.
Targeting schools or hospitals in armed conflicts is considered a violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.
In just three months, from April to June, the United Nations has verified 174 attacks on schools in the Democratic Republic of Congo, most of which took place in the Kasai region, Gamba said.
Last week, the United Nations put the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen on a blacklist of child rights violators for carrying out 38 attacks on schools and hospitals in 2016, killing and maiming 683 children.
Three quarters of all attacks on schools in Yemen were carried out by coalition air strikes, while in Syria, two thirds of them were bombardments by government forces or their allies.
Gamba stressed that the number of attacks for last year was “much higher” because the report only focused on incidents that the United Nations was able to verify.
The United Nations found that army troops or rebel forces used schools for military purposes in 15 of the 20 conflict-affected countries.
Describing a new pattern of attacks, Gamba said children, teachers and schools were being targeted because of the curriculum content or because the school is seen as a symbol of state authority.
Schoolgirls are often killed in a bid to halt female education.
Joy Bishara, one of Nigeria’s Chibok girls who managed to escape Boko Haram kidnappers in 2014, told the council that her attackers repeatedly said “do not go to school” and that she never felt safe there after her ordeal.