Education in the Crossfire in Myanmar: Attacks on Schools, Use by Military and Armed Groups, Skyrocketed after 2021 Takeover

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (September 9, 2022) –  In Myanmar, violent attacks on schools increased to over 190 in 2021, from ten in 2020, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) said in a report released today, the third United Nations International Day to Protect Education from Attack. 

As conflict intensified in Myanmar following the February 2021 takeover, attacks on schools occurred in 13 states and regions, up from three in 2020.

The report, The Impacts of Attacks on Education and Military Use in Myanmar, also found a sharp increase in military use of schools and universities after the takeover, with over 170 cases reported in 2021. The Myanmar military and armed groups used education facilities primarily as bases, detention sites, to store weapons, and as fighting positions. The use of schools by armed forces and armed groups upends education as parties to the conflict typically damage schools or universities, while their presence endangers students. More often, it also leads to the institutions shutting down and setting back learning, sometimes for years. Families are particularly wary of sending girls to schools used by armed forces and armed groups for fear of them falling victim to sexual and other forms of violence.

Military use of schools and fighting nearby also increases the risk of explosive remnants of war, including unexploded ordnance, contaminating schools and routes to and from them, creating long-term dangers. In addition, military use can convert schools and universities from civilian objects into legitimate military objectives, putting them at risk of attack. For example, GCPEA found that over a quarter of schools and universities used for military purposes in Myanmar in 2021 were later targeted, threatening lives and destroying education infrastructure.

“Myanmar’s armed forces and armed groups should take all feasible measures to avoid using schools and universities,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA Executive Director. “Research has shown that military use of schools can increase the risk of violence, sexual abuse, and recruitment of children by armed forces and armed groups, putting learning spaces, students, and teachers, in the line of fire.” 

Globally, around 40 percent of all reported military use of schools, universities, and other education facilities occurred in Myanmar in 2020 and 2021, according to GCPEA’s Education under Attack 2022 report. In the last two years, military use of education facilities occurred in 24 countries, with the total number of cases doubling compared to the 2018 and 2019 periods.

The Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment to protect students, educators, schools, and universities during armed conflict, and endorsed by 114 countries, plays an essential role in preventing attacks on education and mitigating their impacts, including by restricting military use of schools. By endorsing the Declaration, countries commit to using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. As of 2015, over a dozen countries have made changes to their national policies and practices, including their military manuals, to limit the use of schools for military purposes. 

The Myanmar military and armed groups should incorporate the Guidelines into their doctrine and practice and abide by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2601(2021), which urges all parties to armed conflict to respect the civilian character of schools. In addition, all non-state armed groups should also sign onto the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict, which includes protections for education spaces. 

“On this International Day to Protect Education from Attack, militaries and armed groups in Myanmar and around the world should ensure that learning does not become a casualty of conflict and that fighting is kept out of school grounds,” said Nijhowne. “Safe, quality education must continue during conflict to normalize children’s lives and so that there is the capacity and knowledge to rebuild and attain just and peaceful societies.”

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“The Impacts of Attacks on Education and Military Use in Myanmar” is available here.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) is a coalition of UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations working in the fields of education in emergencies, protection, and higher education. 

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