|UNESCO says aid for basic education has increased in some countries, such as Afghanistan [AFP]
Armed conflict is robbing 28 million children of an education, by keeping them out of school where they are often targets of sexual abuse and violence, according to a report released by UNESCO.
Released on Tuesday, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report warned that of the world's primary school aged children not attending schools, 42 per cent of these live in poor countries that are wracked by conflict.
"Armed conflict remains a major roadblock to human development in many parts of the world, yet its impact on education is widely neglected," Irina Bokova, UNESCO director general, said in a statement released at the report's launch in Dakar.
This often leads to a vicious cycle where poverty and lack of development are reinforced by a lack of education, and the risk of further conflict is heightened as millions of youths fail to find employment.
Thirty-five countries were affected by armed conflict from 1999 to 2008, of which 15 are in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Children and schools are on the front line of these conflicts with classrooms, teachers and pupils seen as legitimate targets," UNESCO's statement said.
In Afghanistan, at least 613 attacks on schools were recorded in 2009, up from 347 in 2008, while insurgents in northwestern Pakistan have made numerous attacks on girls' schools including one in which 95 girls were injured.
Children are also being used as soldiers in 24 countries including the Congo, Chad, the Central African Republic, Myanmar and Sudan, the report said.
UNESCO cited evidence in reports from Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, that rape and sexual violence are widely used as a weapon of war in many countries.
"Many victims are young girls,'' the report said, citing Congo, where one-third of rapes involve children and 13 per cent are carried out against children under the age of 10.
According to the report, insecurity and fear associated with sexual violence keeps young girls in particular out of school.
Increased military budgets
UNESCO warned that armed conflict is also diverting public funds from education into military spending.
Currently, 21 developing countries budget more for military spending than primary education, and pressure has grown on national budgets in the wake of the financial crisis.
Education represents only two per cent of humanitarian aid, the report says, estimating that it would take just six days of military spending by aid donors to close the $16bn external financing gap in achieving education for all.
While the report notes some progress in education in a few of the world's poorest countries, UNESCO said the world was "falling too slowly" to meet the goal of Education for All by 2015, that over 160 countries signed up to in 2000.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 10 million children drop out of primary school every year and about 38 per cent of the region's adults (167 million people) still lack basic literacy skills - most of them women.
South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is one of four Nobel laureates that endorsed the report, introduced it, saying: "It documents in stark detail the sheer brutality of the violence against some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including its schoolchildren, and it challenges world leaders of all countries, rich and poor, to act decisively."