Education Under Attack 2020

Education Under Attack 2020

My father says he will buy me toys and get me a new school bag.
But I don’t want a new school bag. I hate school bags.
I don’t want to go anywhere near a bus.
I hate buses, I hate school and I can’t sleep.
I see my friends in my dreams begging me to rescue them.
So, from now on, I’m going to stay at home.
Mokhtar, 8-year-old survivor of the August 9, 2018 airstrike on a school bus in Yemen, which killed at least 30 students and teachers and wounded another 20.[1]


Education Under Attack 2020

A Global Study of Attacks on Schools, Universities, their Students and Staff, 2015-2019

Education is under attack around the world. From Afghanistan to Colombia, Mali to Thailand, students and teachers are killed, raped, and abducted, while schools and universities are occupied, bombed, and destroyed.

Between 2015 and 2019, there were more than 11,000 reported attacks, harming more than 22,000 students and educators in at least 93 countries. In the 37 countries profiled in this report, at least 10 attacks on education occurred over the last 5 years.

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Total Attacks

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Total Attacks


Attack Categories


Reported incidents from 2015-2019*

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Affected Countries

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Total Attacks

An attack on education can take many forms. Students and teachers at all levels of education have been deliberately or indiscriminately killed, assaulted, or threatened. Schools and universities have been destroyed or damaged. Education under Attack 2020 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), education officials, education buildings, resources, or facilities (including school buses). In addition, armed forces and non-state armed groups use schools and universities for military or security purposes. These violations occur for strategic, political, ideological, sectarian, ethnic, or religious reasons.

Attacks on education kill and injure, lead to student drop out, the loss of teachers, and extended school and university closures. Such attacks diminish the quality of education and have devastating, long-term consequences for society; they also have unique impacts on girls and women, marginalized communities, and other groups.

Between 2015 and 2019, there were more than 11,000 reported attacks, harming more than 22,000 students and educators in at least 93 countries.

Attacks on Schools

Attacks on schools include targeted violent attacks on pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools by state armed forces or non-state armed groups, as well as indiscriminate attacks due to airstrikes, shelling, or armed combat. This category also includes attacks on educational infrastructure, such as playgrounds and school libraries.

Over two-thirds of the attacks on education between 2015 and 2019, or over 7,300 reported incidents, were direct attacks on schools. More than 1,500 attacks on schools were reported in both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen. Between 500 and 999 incidents were reported in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Syria.

In Syria, 40 percent of the country’s schools were damaged or destroyed by fighting between 2013 and 2019[1][1]. In the first three quarters of 2019 alone, the United Nations verified 145 attacks on schools in Syria[2][2].

  • [1] Geert Cappelaere, “Attack in Afrin, Syria, kills three children and causes significant damage to school,” UNICEF, Statement, July 12, 2019, (accessed November 1, 2019). UNICEF, “Fast Facts: Syria Crisis,” UNICEF, August 2019, (accessed November 1, 2019), p. 2.
  • [2] UNICEF, “Fast Facts: Syria Crisis,” November 2019, (January 22, 2019), p.2.

Attacks on Students & Staff

Attacks on students, teachers, and other education personnel include killings, injuries, torture, abductions, forced disappearances, and threats of violence, such as coercion or extortion, that occur at, or on their way to or from, school. Education personnel include teaching staff, administrators, and school support staff.

Over 8,300 students, teachers, and other education personnel were reportedly attacked between 2015 and 2019. Students and educators were most frequently affected by direct and targeted attacks in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Palestine, and the Philippines.

In Cameroon, separatist armed groups threatened, abducted, beat, and killed students and school personnel for breaking the groups’ boycott on education in the Northwest and Southwest regions. In one attack, on February 16, 2019[1][1], suspected separatists abducted 170 students from a Catholic school in the town of Kumbo, in Northwest region, resulting in the reported closure of the school[2][2].

  • [1] UN News, “Over 80 per cent of schools in anglophone Cameroon shut down, as conflict worsens,” Press release, June 21, 2019, (accessed July 25, 2019).
  • [2] “Cameroon kidnap: 170 students freed,” BBC News, February 18, 2019, (accessed February 19, 2019).

Military Use of Schools

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 34 countries between 2015 and 2019, including 28 countries profiled in the report: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

In Myanmar, at least 30 schools were reportedly used for military purposes by the state armed forces, known as Tatmadaw, and the Border Guard Police in 2018[1][1].

  • [1] UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict,” S/2019/509, July 30, 2018, (accessed April 9, 2020), para. 131.

Child Recruitment

Child recruitment at, or on the way 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 on the way to or from, school in 17 profiled countries from 2015 to 2019: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Colombia, DRC, Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Yemen.

In Yemen, in 2018, the United Nations verified that Houthi forces recruited and mobilized children from 20 schools, including four girls’ schools[1][1].

  • [1] UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict,” S/2019/509, July 30, 2018, para. 194.

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence at, or on the way to or from, school or university occurs when armed forces or non-state armed groups rape, sexually harass, or abuse students or educators of all genders; 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 forces, law enforcement, or non-state armed groups were responsible for sexual violence at, or on the way to or from, school or university in 17 countries, including 15 profiled in the report, from 2015 to 2019: Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, DRC, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

In Democratic Republic of the Congo, during conflict in the greater Kasai region in 2016 and 2017, GCPEA documented multiple cases of rape and forced marriage perpetrated by armed groups during and after attacks on schools[1][1].

  • [1] GCPEA, “All That I Have Lost”: Impact of Attacks on Education for Women and Girls in Kasai Central Province, (New York: GCPEA, 2019), (accessed May 20, 2019). p.38.

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, as well as excessive force used to repress on-campus or education-related protests.

Attacks on higher education students, professors, and personnel or higher education facilities were reported in 36 of the 37 profiles in the report. Between 2015 and 2019, the most heavily affected countries were Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Palestine, Sudan, and Turkey.

In India, over 1,300 university students and staff were arrested for their participation in campus or education-related protests, in 2018 and 2019.[1][1] In addition, attacks on university facilities occurred, such as the reported grenade explosion outside the main gate of the University of Kashmir on November 26, 2019, which injured four people.[2][2]

  • [1] GCPEA, Education under Attack 2020, India profile.
  • [2] “India: Two killed, several wounded in Kashmir grenade attacks,” Al Jazeera, November 26, 2019, (accessed January 29, 2020). “Kashmir universities to shut until 2020, after blasts and curbs,” University World News, November 28, 2019, (accessed January 29, 2020). Shuja-ul-Haq and Manjeet Singh Negi, “Major terror attack averted before Republic Day, 5 Jaish terrorists arrested in J&K,” India Today, January 16, 2020, (accessed January 29, 2020).

Targeted Attacks on Girls + Women

Women and girls were directly targeted because of their gender in at least 21 out of the 37 countries profiled: Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela, and Yemen. These attacks generally took the form of sexual violence or violent repression of women and girls’ education.

GCPEA more deeply examined the impact attacks on education have on women and girls in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and conflict settings around the world. GCPEA reports found that women and girls often suffered long-term consequences after targeted attacks due to their gender, such as lost education, early pregnancy, child and forced marriage, and stigma associated with sexual violence. In some contexts, armed groups threatened teachers, students, and families against educating girls. In other contexts, girls’ schools were attacked, creating lasting damage to infrastructure[1][1].

On February 19, 2018, in Dapchi, Yobe state in Nigeria, a faction of Boko Haram reportedly kidnapped 110 girls and one boy from a girls’ school[2][2]. All but one were released[3][3]. The school later reopened but with less than a quarter of students in attendance[4][4].

  • [1] GCPEA, “Its Very Painful to Talk About”: Impact of Attacks on Education on Women and Girls, (New York: GCPEA, November 2019), (accessed March 20, 2020).
  • [2] “Boko Haram kept one Dapchi girl who refused to deny her Christianity,” The Guardian, March 24, 2018, (accessed June 11, 2018); “Kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirls freed in Nigeria,” BBC, March 22, 2018, (accessed June 11, 2018).
  • [3] Chika Oduah, “‘She refused to convert to Islam,’ 85 days on, kidnapped schoolgirl Leah Sharibu remains in captivity,” CNN, May 15, 2018, (accessed November 1, 2018).
  • [4] Chika Oduah, “Fear Still Grips Dapchi Girls' School in Nigeria,” Voice of America, May 21, 2018, (accessed June 15, 2018).

What’s The Solution?

To end attacks on education and deter military use of schools and universities in situations of armed conflict and insecurity, GCPEA recommends that government and stakeholders:

  • hold perpetrators to account,
  • develop gender-responsive safety and security plans to prevent and respond to attacks,
  • and strengthen monitoring and reporting of attacks on education.

Overview and full list of recommendations

Above all, GCPEA calls on states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration, and for 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 May 2020, 104 states had endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, over half of all United Nations member states. The United Nations Secretary General has called on all member states to endorse the Declaration.

Learn More About the Safe Schools Declaration


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), Plan International, 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 2020 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 2020 has been provided by the Education Above All Foundation, Education Cannot Wait, 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.

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Lead Education Under Attack Researcher: Marika Tsolakis

Researcher: Jerome Marston

Former Research Director: Amy Kapit

Contributing Researchers and Writers: Allyson Balcolm, Lilian Cervantes Pacheco, Christine Choi, Alex Firth, Aishwarya Khurana, Felicity Pearce, Christopher Sfetsios, Delphine Starr, Stefan Walzer-Goldfeld, and Amay Yadav.


GCPEA is grateful to members of its Secretariat, Monitoring and Reporting Working Group, Safe Schools Declaration 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.