( AP ) - The number of reported attacks against students, teachers and educational facilities for political or military reasons has increased dramatically in the past three years, according to a recent U.N. study.
The countries that are most affected are Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal, the Palestinian territories, Thailand and Zimbabwe, the study showed.
Brendan O'Malley, who prepared the report for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, told a news conference on Thursday that the violent incidents range from multiple deaths in bombings and by gunfire to targeted assassinations, destruction of buildings, the recruitment of school-age children as soldiers, and the occupation of schools by armed groups.
"Attacks on education often escape international attention amid the general fighting in conflict-affected countries," the report said. "But the number of reported assassinations, bombings and burnings of school and academic staff and buildings has risen dramatically in the past three years, reflecting the increasingly bloody nature of local conflicts around the world."
In Iraq, O'Malley said, 280 academics were killed between the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and April this year "in a campaign of liquidation." In Afghanistan, he said, there were 190 bombing, arson and missile attacks on education targets in 2005 and 2006. In Colombia, 310 teachers have been murdered since 2000.
"In Thailand, there have been cases of teachers shot and burned in front of their classes. In Baghdad, there's a case of a woman teacher who was raped and mutilated and her body hung up and left to hang outside the school for a number of days. ... In Nepal, there are instances of head teachers being beheaded because they've been accused of cooperating with the government by Marxist guerrillas," O'Malley said.
The report said there are no accurate global figures for the number of teachers, students or education officials killed each year, or for attacks on schools, universities and education offices for military, political, ethnic or religious reasons.
"But there are specific figures for the number of incidents in particular countries and territories and they suggest that the worst-affected in the past five years include Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal, the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, Thailand and Zimbabwe, and in all cases except Nepal the conflict is ongoing," the report said.
One of the key U.N. goals set by world leaders at a summit in 2000 is to ensure that all children receive a primary school education by 2015.
O'Malley said "40 percent of the 77 million children who are not in school live in conflict-affected areas, and in the areas worst affected by attacks, the impact is devastating."
"In Iraq, for instance, the education system is virtually on the point of collapse. Thirty percent of pupils attended classes last year, compared to 75 percent the academic year before, and university attendances are down by up to 60 percent in many departments," he said.
In Afghanistan in 2006, some 100,000 children who attended school the previous year were no longer attending classes because of attacks, he said. And in March this year, 111 out of 224 schools in Helmand Province were closed.
In Thailand's insurgency-plagued south, O'Malley said, "teachers are being assassinated one by one." In the Palestinian territories, the report quoted the Palestinian education ministries as saying 43 schools had been occupied by Israeli troops and turned into military bases since September 2000. In Zimbabwe, it said, between 2001 and 2002, there were at least 238 human rights violations against teachers, including 34 cases of torture.
The report calls for stepped up efforts to ensure that all children receive an education - including those in conflict areas, creation of a global database of attacks, and international pressure to bring those responsible for attacks to justice.
"We need parents to come out strongly in defense of schools," O'Malley said. "We need urgent collective action ... to end impunity for attacks, and to work towards acceptance of schools as zones of peace and safe sanctuaries."