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UNICEF report says Yemen war risking futures of millions of children

UNICEF report says Yemen war risking futures of millions of children
UNICEF said Monday in a new report that more than 2 million school-age Yemenis children were unable to attend school due to the ongoing war. Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE

July 6 (UPI) -- The United Nations said the future of millions of children in Yemen were under threat as education was one of the "greatest casualties" of the ongoing war in the Middle Eastern nation.

In a report released Monday titled "Education Disrupted: Impact of the conflict on children's education in Yemen," the United Nations Children's Fund said children have been the primary victims of the six-year war and their futures were now being attacked due to their inability to attend classes.

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According to the report, more than 2 million school-age children in the country are unable to attend school due to poverty, conflict and a lack of education opportunities, more than double the 890,000 children recorded in the same situation in 2015.

UNICEF said it estimates that 8.1 million children are in need of education assistance nationwide, representing a "signifiant increase" from the 1.1 million requiring the same assistance prior to December 2014.

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The report states that if those children are not provided assistance soon "they may never return to school."

"Access to quality education is a basic right for every child, including for girls, displaced children and those with disabilities," Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF's representative to Yemen, said in a statement.

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The United Nations has labeled Yemen "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" as 80% of its 31 million population is in need of urgent assistance following the escalation of fighting into all-out-war between the Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government of Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition forces in March 2015.

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"The conflict has a staggering impact on every aspect of children's lives, yet access to education provides a sense of normalcy for children in even the most desperate contexts and protects them from multiple forms of exploitation," Duamelle said. "Keeping children in school is critical for their own future and the future of Yemen."

The report said compounding the issue is that 2,507 schools have been impacted by the war, including being damaged, used as shelters for internally displaced people or occupied by armed groups. There have also been 231 attacks on schools since March 2015.

Another issue affecting their education is that an estimated 171,600 teachers, which represents two-thirds of the teaching workforce, have not been paid a regular salary in four years, putting the education of nearly 4 million additional children at risk.

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"It hurts the students' souls when they find all teachers abandoning teaching," said Mohammed, a 49-year-old former teacher who left the public sector after not receiving a paycheck since 2016, according to the report. "It will lead to the collapse of education, and when education collapses, values and fundamentals collapse."

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The report states that the country is "very youthful" with 40% of its population under the age of 14, and if they do not receive the education they are entitled to it is not only their futures at risk.

"If challenges to the education system are not adequately addressed today, as well as in the mid to long term, there is a very real possibility that the potential of an entire generation of children will be lost," it said.

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