Some 103 schools and other educational institutions were attacked in May, new data from Save the Children reveal, amid growing fears that the safety of students is at risk amid the ongoing unrest that has followed the military coup of February 1.
The children’s rights organization said improvised explosive devices and hand grenades were used in the vast majority of attacks.
“Save the Children is appalled by these attacks, which not only put children’s lives at risk, but also further undermine what is already a dire situation for children’s learning in Myanmar,” he said. stated in a press release.
“Schools are safe places of learning for children who must be safe from attack at all times. Attacks on schools are a serious violation against children, and no school should be deliberately targeted.
The coronavirus pandemic had already deprived Myanmar’s children of months of schooling when army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power in a February 1 coup, arresting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and senior officials in his government.
Since then, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest, with the military using force to suppress those who oppose its regime. According to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, at least 860 people were killed and nearly 5,000 people are in detention.
During previous periods of military rule, generals closed universities and, since February 1, the armed forces have occupied dozens of schools and college campuses across the country. Thousands of teachers who have joined the civil disobedience movement were made redundant.
While schools have been set on fire or shelled, it is still unclear who is behind the attacks. The military blames the anti-coup movement, but resistance fighters told independent media in Myanmar that they were only targeting the military and would not harm civilians.
Save the Children told Al Jazeera it had “no reliable information” on those responsible.
UNICEF also noted an “increase in the number of explosions in schools, schools and offices” in recent weeks.
“Violence in or around schools is never acceptable,” the UN agency’s Myanmar office said in a statement posted on Facebook on June 3. “Schools and other educational establishments must be protected from conflict and unrest. Attacks on places of learning and educational staff and the occupation of schools are violations of children’s rights.
Armed soldiers in schools
Children in public schools started returning to their classes earlier this month, but many young people were too scared to go.
“I couldn’t go to school all last year because of the virus. And this year, I don’t dare go, ”a 10-year-old girl from central Magway told the organization. “I want to go to school, but I’m scared. Although the school doors are closed, there are soldiers inside and I am afraid of the soldiers. I’m afraid there is a bombing in our school while we are there.
The Myanmar Teachers’ Federation told The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar media outlet, that less than a million students have returned to school due to concerns about their safety.
Images from the first day of school posted on social media showed armed soldiers at school gates, on buses and even in classrooms, with some apparently encouraging young children to hold guns.
“Even for us, we are worried about the potential violence when we step outside as regime forces continue brutal actions against civilians,” the mother of an elementary school student told The Irrawaddy, expressing concern over the presence of the army. “How could we send our child to a place where we couldn’t see if anything had happened to him?” “
Security forces have occupied at least 60 schools and college campuses across the country since March, Save the Children said.
“Armed soldiers have no place in schools or other learning spaces,” he said in the statement. “Under no circumstances should children be forced to possess weapons of any kind. This highly irresponsible behavior by armed personnel is unacceptable, endangers children and violates international standards for safe education. “
Myanmar is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that all children have the right to a safe education.
Save the Children said the international community, including governments and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, should condemn the attacks and make safe and inclusive education a priority in its efforts. response to the Myanmar crisis.
“Children are often the most affected by conflict and violence, and the current situation of children in Myanmar could hardly be more urgent. The group told Al Jazeera in an email.