Acts of armed violence against schools in Haiti, including shooting, ransacking, looting and kidnappings have increased nine-fold in one year, as rising insecurity and widespread unrest begin to cripple the country’s education system, UNICEF warned today.
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.”
An estimated 1 million children are out of school in Haiti due to social unrest and insecurity, high education costs, lack of support for the most vulnerable and poor educational services, while violence against schools is fast becoming a reason for parents to keep their children at home.
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.
“As children reel from the effects of armed violence, insecurity in Haiti shows no sign of abating,” said Maes. “Violence continues to take a heavy toll on children’s lives in and around Port-au-Prince, and schools are no longer spared. 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.”
Despite escalating violence and insecurity in the country, the Haitian Ministry of Education has stepped up its efforts to open schools, with 3 in 4 schools reopening by December 2022, compared to less than 1 in 10 in October.
UNICEF urges all actors to refrain from any action that jeopardizes children’s right to an education. UNICEF also calls on the Government of Haiti to ensure schools are safe and to hold accountable groups and individuals who harm or threaten children in school.