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War is bad for kids

Conflicts inflict long-term damage on children's educations.

Albert went to primary school for two years before his family ran out of money and he went to work instead, helping to earn $3 for each 110 pound sack hauled out of the forest.

The sacks sell for $25 in Goma, 55 miles away, a drive that takes four hours along rutted roads that wind through a stunning landscape of green pasture and alpine forest.

“Children in conflict live with fear, isolation and instability,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of charity Save the Children. “Many have been forced to flee their homes. These children, supported by their parents, desperately want to return to school.”

Here in eastern Congo fear of rape and sexual assault compounds the poverty that keeps girls from school. Last year there were 11,000 reported rapes but it is widely believed that the actual figure is much higher. Fear and stigma discourage many from reporting rape at all. Children are frequently targets.

Fourteen-year-old Marie was expelled from school when she became pregnant with the child of a man who raped her. “I liked going to school because it would give me the chance to become someone,” she said. “Everything changed when I gave birth to the child: I knew from that moment that nothing would be the same,” she said forlorn.

The UNESCO report calls for a special commission to be established on sexual violence and rape in conflict zones. The commission would be backed by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

It also criticizes a “broken” international aid system that fails to sufficiently fund education. “The abject failure of the development community to provide schooling and protection for school pupils in brutal war zones shames us all,” said Kailash Satyarthi, president of the Global Campaign for Education.

“Schooling and safety is what parents and children want most in such environments yet it is at the bottom of the list of what is provided,” he said.

Jolie Karine, 25, is already a mother of five. Her husband was killed three years ago so now she does the backbreaking work of a charcoal porter for a dollar a day.

“I never went to school so I know education is important for their future life,” she said standing with her children in front of the family's two-roomed stick-framed hut outside Kitchanga that had a straw mat for a door.

“It’s difficult: sometimes they drop out for a year before I can get the money for them to return to school. But,” she added with a smile, “if they study one might even become a doctor!”