Overview: Focus on Gaza
More than half of the 1.5 million people living in Gaza are children below the age of 18, who need special protection. These 800,000 children and adolescents continue to suffer disproportionately from the impact of the blockade and the failure of the peace process.
Children face daily risks to their security and human dignity, including threats of death, injury, poverty and psychological distress. They also face threats for their future as challenges to the quality of education keep increasing.
While the number of Israeli and Palestinian children killed in the frame of the conflict dropped drastically during the first five months of 2011, the highest percentage of killings continues to take place in Gaza.
Between January and May 2011, 8 out of the 9 children killed in the occupied Palestinian territory and Southern Israel were from the coastal enclave.
Poverty continues to affect Palestinian children more than ever. In 2009, 33.2 per cent of Palestinians were living in poverty, with 20 per cent living in deep poverty. As a result, 61 per cent of households were food insecure, and 76.8 per cent of children aged 9– 12 months were anaemic, compared with 68.2 per cent in 2006.
Due to increased poverty rates, some Gazan children are even placing their lives at risk in order to support their families. They engage in dangerous labour such as working in tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, or collecting gravel and scrap metal in abandoned settlements and industrial zones near the Barrier between Israel and Gaza. In 2010, 26 children between the ages of 13 and 17 were shot and injured by Israeli security forces while collecting gravel, which can be sold to local factories since the blockade severely restricts entry of construction materials through the official crossings with Israel.
The situation of education has also worsened, in particular because of the blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007. In 2010/2011, there were 233,000 students enrolled in 394 government schools. The number of pupils in a class averages 39, and increases dramatically in densely populated areas.
The optimum ratio is 30 students per classroom for basic and 35 for secondary according to government standards. Another 225,600 students were enrolled in 238 UNRWA run schools and 46 private schools.
60% of Gazan children attend governement schools. UNRWA schools teach basic education to refugee children, while government-run schools teach basic education up to ninth grade to non-refugee children and secondary education to all children, regardless of their refugee status.
The increasing number of children has forced 80% of government schools to run double shift in order to accomodate needs. 105 new governmental schools would be needed to cover for this double shift which has had deep impact on the quality of education. Class time had to be curtailed by one-third, extra-curricular activities were cancelled, learning achievements have plumetted and violence at school has increased. An estimated 500 additionnal classrooms could be built in governmental schools if restrictions on the entry of construction materials through the official crossings with Israel were lifted.
Meanwhile, children and adolescents continue to suffer from emotional duress and feelings of insecurity due to the on-going violence and limited recreational facilities and programmes. Children report anxiety, poor performance in school and aggressive behaviour as their main symptoms of stress. The number of children falling below their grade level and dropping out continues to rise. During the second semester of 2010, only 59 per cent and 47 per cent of students attending government-run schools passed their grade four unified Arabic and mathematics exams respectively.
This monthly update focuses on how UNICEF helps making schools ‘Child-Friendly’ to ensure that children go and stay in school, and are able to fully engage in society.