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UNICEF condemns nine-fold rise in violence targeting Haitian schools

Port-au-Prince, Feb 9 (Prensa Latina) UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Thursday condemned acts of armed violence targeting schools in Haiti have spiked nine-fold in one year amid rising insecurity and widespread unrest.

In the first four months of the academic year (October – February), 72 schools were reportedly targeted compared to eight during the same period last year. This includes at least 13 schools targeted by armed groups, one school set on fire, one student killed, and at least two staff members kidnapped, according to reports by UNICEF partners.

In the first six days of February alone, 30 schools were shuttered as a result of escalating violence in urban areas, while over 1 in 4 schools has remained closed since October last year.

“In Haiti, schools have always been considered and respected as safe havens, but in the past few months they have become targets for violence,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Bruno Maes. “In certain urban areas of the country, armed groups consider looting schools as a lucrative alternative to other forms of extortion and crime. This must stop. The targeting of schools by armed groups is having an enormous impact on children’s safety, well-being and ability to learn.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 60 per cent of Port-au-Prince is controlled by armed groups. When groups target schools, they frequently loot school equipment, including desks, benches, boards, laptops, photocopiers, batteries, and solar panels. Bags of rice, dough, and maize used for school meals – a lifeline for countless children in Haiti – have also been stolen, together with canteen equipment.

With social unrest rising these recent weeks, many school principals have taken the decision to close schools to protect children from potential attacks. As a result, in January 2023, children lost an average of one and a half school days per week. Without urgent action to protect schools from violence, UNICEF predicts that students will lose an estimated 36 days of school by the end of June.

In addition to armed violence, social unrest has also impacted children’s ability to learn in school. On 26 January, for example, children were forced to evacuate schools as violent street protests over the killing of 14 police personnel spread throughout the country.

“A child who is scared to go to school is a child more at risk of being recruited by armed groups. We must act urgently to protect children’s lives and futures,” said Maes.

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