Ricky Balidad was on his way to teach a class at an interfaith school in Talaingod, the Philippines, when a paramilitary fighter blocked his path.
“If you go through we will chop you up and kill you,” said the fighter. Humanitarian groups say such threats have become common in recent years, with members of the Alamara militia joining up with soldiers to harass teachers and pupils inside school grounds.
Save the Children warned that attacks on schools around the world, including in the Philippines, are rising. In a new report, Education Under Attack, the charity documents more than 12,700 violent incidents in schools and universities around the world in the last five years. During those, more than 21,000 teachers and students were harmed.
Over the last five years, 41 countries suffered at least five attacks on education establishments, marking a increase from the 2009‐2013 period, when the report documented 30 countries experiencing this number of attacks.
“Teaching and learning has become increasingly dangerous, with the lives of students, teachers and academics frequently put at risk,” said Diya Nijhowne, executive director of the the report.
“Schools and universities should be safe and protective spaces, but armed forces and armed groups continue to turn them into sites of intimidation and violence.”
Among the worst affected countries were the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and occupied Palestinian territories, the report found. These countries either suffered more than 1,000 attacks on education, or suffered attacks that harmed more than 1,000 students or staff, according to Save the Children.
In the Philippines, indigenous-run schools have long been targets of the military and paramilitary forces, which accuse the schools of being training grounds for a communist army. Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte last year publicly threatened to bomb the schools, saying: ”You’re operating illegally and you’re teaching the children to rebel against government.”
Humanitarian groups have said that more than 1,000 indigenous students and teachers experienced threats, harassment and intimidation by members of the Alamara and the country’s national military between 2013 and 2017.
Rokaya, 14, had to flee the city of Marawi during a conflict in which her school was also bombed.
“I saw an aeroplane releasing a bomb and I was scared. I thought we were going to die,” she told Save the Children.
“I was afraid because there was a landslide on our road and my mother was pregnant.
“Our classroom was under gunfire. We still can’t go there because it’s not yet deconstructed [sic].
“Our school was destroyed by the bomb. I was unable to study there.”
The teenager now attends a makeshift school in a nearby tent city. “I thought I would never go back to school,” she said. ”I also thought that there would be no more schools – but there are and I’m now back in school.
“I really do like being here. The teachers are teaching us well and they are taking care of us.”
In 18 of the countries Save the Children profiled, attacks on places of education deliberately targeted female students and teachers. While some extremist groups bombed girls’ schools, others chose to rape women and girls close to schools.
In one example highlighted in the report, armed militiamen in the DRC abducted eight girls from a primary school last year and raped them over the course of three months.
Schools and universities were also used as bases, barracks, detention centres, or for other military purposes, in 29 counties.
“These military uses increase the risk that affected schools and universities will be attacked by opposing forces, that children will be recruited into armed groups, or that students and educators will be targeted for sexual violence,” Save the Children said in a statement.
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