(AFP) – Schools in Haiti, previously considered safe havens from the Caribbean nation’s turmoil, have become increasingly targeted by violent groups, UNICEF warned Thursday.
The UN agency reported that since the beginning of the school year last October, 72 schools had seen acts of violence — including kidnappings, ransacking, and looting — a nine-fold increase over a year ago.
“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,” UNICEF said, citing reports from partner groups.
During the robberies, a wide variety of equipment was stolen, including desks, computers, 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,” UNICEF said.
The group also warned that rising instability in the country, which has seen armed gangs take control in many areas, threatens children’s ability to attend school.
“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,” the statement said, noting that over a quarter of schools had not started since last October.
“A child who is scared to go to school is a child more at risk of being recruited by armed groups,” said the agency’s representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes.