The use of educational institutions by armed forces and non-state armed groups during wartime endangers students and their education around the world, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack in a study released Tuesday.
The 77-page study examines the use of schools and educational institutions for military purposes by government armed forces and opposition or pro-government groups during armed conflict or insecurity.
Schools are used for barracks, logistics bases, operational headquarters, weapons and ammunition caches, detention and interrogation centres, firing and observation positions, and recruitment grounds.
“The moment troops establish a base inside a school, they can turn it into a target for attack,” said Diya Nijhowne, director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.
“When soldiers use schools and universities, they are often putting their own convenience over the safety and education of students.”
Countries around the world should adopt policies and laws to restrict military forces and armed groups from using schools and other education institutions during times of armed conflict, the coalition said.
Between January 2005 and October 2012, the study found, armed forces and armed groups used educational institutions in at least 24 countries.
These included Afghanistan, Myanmar, Colombia, India, Iraq, Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Sometimes soldiers take over a school entirely, but often they use just a part of the school or university - some classrooms, an entire floor, the playground - and in doing so expose students to attack and other violence.
In the worst cases, children have been injured and killed and schools damaged or destroyed as belligerent forces attack schools because military forces had been using them.
Nijhowne said: “Governments need to send a clear message that even during times of armed conflict, access to a safe education should be a priority, and armed forces need to respect students’ right to education."