…Whenever I think of that horrible night, I pray for the safety of every student at school everywhere. I know what it feels like—it doesn’t feel good at all— when all you ever wanted was to study and achieve your dream, and then all of a sudden, in just a few minutes, your hopes and dreams fall like a leaf from a tree. Joy Bishara

speaking before the UN Security Council, October 13, 2017

Joy Bishara and more than 270 of her classmates were kidnapped by members of the armed extremist group Boko Haram from a government-run secondary school for girls in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14, 2014.


Education Under Attack 2018

A Global Study of Attacks on Schools, Universities, their Students and Staff, 2013-2017

In countries across the globe from Afghanistan to Colombia to India to Mali to Turkey to Yemen and on, students, teachers, and educational facilities are under siege. Targeted killings, rape, abduction, child recruitment, intimidation, threats, military occupation, and destruction of property are just some of the ways in which education is being attacked.

Between 2013 and 2017, there were more than 12,700 attacks, harming more than 21,000 students and educators in at least 70 countries. In 28 countries profiled in this report, at least 20 attacks on education occurred over the last 5 years.

What are Attacks on Education?

An attack on education can take many forms. Students have been blocked from accessing their schools. Students and educators at all levels of education have been deliberately or indiscriminately killed, maimed, or traumatized. Schools and universities have been destroyed or damaged. This report looks at this violence and the use of force against people, buildings, and resources.

GCPEA defines attacks on education as any threatened or actual use of force against students, teachers, academics, education support and transport staff (e.g., janitors, bus drivers), or education officials, as well as attacks on education buildings, resources, material, or facilities (including school buses). These actions may occur for political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic, or religious reasons.

Attacks on education kill and injure, lead to student drop out, the loss of teachers, extended school and university closures. They diminish the quality of education and have devastating and longterm consequences for society.

Attacks on Schools

Attacks on schools include targeted violent attacks on education infrastructure by state security forces or non-state armed groups, as well as indiscriminate attacks due to airstrikes, shelling, or armed combat.

More than 1,000 incidents of direct and collateral attacks on schools were reported in: Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, and Yemen. Between 500 and 999 attacks on schools were documented in: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine.

In 2016 and 2017 there were at least 639 reported attacks on schools in the Greater Kasai region of the DRC alone, of which more than 400 were verified. [1] In addition, several hundred attacks on schools were reported in the Tanganyika region and close to 100 attacks on schools were reported in North and South Kivu during those same years. [2]

Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Other Education Personnel

Attacks on students and teachers consist of killings, injuries, torture, abductions, forced disappearances, or threats of violence, including coercion or extortion that involve violent threats directed toward students and education staff. Education personnel include teaching staff, administrators, and school support staff.

Students and educators were most frequently affected by direct and targeted attacks in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, the Philippines, and Nigeria.

In Afghanistan, documented threats and intimidation of teachers increased dramatically during the reporting period, at least from 2013 to 2016, even as targeted killings reportedly declined. [1] The majority of verbal or written threats were directed toward girls’ education and, during the later years of the reporting period, in areas of the country where the ‘Islamic State’ had a presence. [2]

Military Use of Schools and Universities

Military use of schools and universities includes cases in which armed forces or non-state armed groups occupy schools and use them as bases, barracks, and temporary shelters for those associated with fighting forces; for fighting positions, weapons storage facilities, and detention and interrogation centers; and for military training or drilling soldiers.

At least one case of military use of schools or universities was reported in 29 countries between 2013 and 2017, including 24 countries profiled in the report: Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic , Cameroon, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

In the Central African Republic armed groups and armed forces were each responsible for using schools including at least 46 schools for military purposes in 2014. Many of these schools were also looted, hit by bullets, or set on fire. [1]

Child Recruitment at School

Child recruitment at, or en route to or from, school occurs when armed forces or non-state armed groups use schools or school routes as locales for recruiting girls and boys under the age of 18 to act as fighters, spies, or intelligence sources; for domestic work; to transport weapons or other materials; or for any other purpose associated with the armed group. At least one case of child recruitment was documented at, or en route to or from, school in 16 profiled countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Yemen.

In South Sudan, UN and media sources indicated that anti-government groups forcibly recruited more than 500 children from schools between December 2014 and May 2015. [1]

Sexual Violence by Armed Parties at School or University

Sexual violence by armed parties at, or en route to or from, school or university occurs when state security forces or non-state armed groups rape, sexually harass, or abuse students or educators; abduct students or educators for sexual purposes; recruit students or educators to serve a sexual function in an armed force or armed group; or threaten to engage in such conduct.

GCPEA found reports that armed parties were responsible for sexual violence occurring at or en route to or from school or university in 17 countries profiled in the report: Afghanistan, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Sudan, Venezuela, and Yemen.

In Iraq, the ‘Islamic State’ held a group of women and girls at an abandoned school in Tal Afar from September through December 2014. Some were reportedly raped. [1]

Attacks on Higher Education

Attacks on higher education include attacks on universities, technical and vocational education training institutes, and other higher education facilities, as well as attacks that target students, professors, and other higher education staff. They include deliberate acts of violence, coercion, intimidation, or threats of physical force that create a climate of fear and repression that undermines academic freedom and educational functions.

Attacks on university students, professors, and higher education personnel were widely reported in every country profiled. There were reports of attacks on higher education facilities in 20 profiled countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Yemen.

In Kenya, gunmen from the Somalia-based armed group al-Shabaab killed at least 142 students and injured another 79 on April 2, 2015, when they entered Garissa University College, shooting students while they slept and taking others hostage before killing them. [1]

What’s the Solution?

Above all, GCPEA calls on states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration, and for all international agencies and civil society organizations to support these efforts.

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment to protect education during armed conflict. By endorsing the Declaration, states also commit to implementing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, which offers guidance on concrete measures that armed forces and armed non-state actors can take to deter military use of education institutions. The number of countries joining the community of states committed to protecting education continues to grow. As of April, 2018, 74 states had endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, over one third of all UN member states. The United Nations Secretary General has called on all member states to endorse the Declaration.

For a full list of recommendations, click here.

Bar represents the extent of attacks on education in each country, as measured by either the reported number of attacks on education or the reported number of students and education personnel harmed by attacks on education between 2013-2017. Click country name to see profile


The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) includes: co-chairs Human Rights Watch and Save the Children, the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara), the Institute of International Education (IIE), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Education Above All Foundation (EAA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). GCPEA is a project of the Tides Center, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

Education under Attack 2018 is the result of independent research conducted by GCPEA. It is independent of the individual member organizations of the Steering Committee of GCPEA and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Steering Committee member organizations.

Generous support for Education under Attack 2018 has been provided by the Education Above All Foundation, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and an anonymous donor. EAA has been working to prevent attacks on education and partnering with GCPEA since 2011. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health contributed in-kind research support. The NoVo Foundation has also been a supporter of GCPEA’s work.

Site design and development by Primer & Co.

Research Director: Amy Kapit
Initial Research Coordinator: Andrea Mazzarino
Research Team: Cristal Downing and Anji Manivannan
Contributing Researchers and Writers: Micah Chabowski, Courtney Clark, Jennifer Cotton, Allison Cowie, Abdallah Ewis, Cate Dorigan, Sébastien Hine, Dana Marrero, Veera Mitzner, Christine Monaghan, Christopher Sfetsios, Siobhan Smith, Patrick Spauster, Chloé Suberville, Nang Thwe

GCPEA is grateful to members of its Secretariat, Monitoring and Reporting Working Group, and Steering Committee who provided feedback on and advised on this project, as well as staff members and consultants of member organizations who reviewed and commented on the country profiles, including: Véronique Aubert, Sébastien Hine, Peter Klanduch, Maleiha Malik, Zama Neff, Diya Nijhowne, James Ross, Gisela Schmidt-Martin, Bede Sheppard, Margaret Sinclair, Sarah Willcox, and Stephen Wordsworth.

Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack Education Above All Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Primer & Co