Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan Conflict Leaves Children without Education

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Both Countries Should Endorse Safe Schools Declaration

Kayirgul is a bright 9-year-old elementary school student from Ak-Sai village in southern Kyrgyzstan. Her village was one of the ten impacted during violent clashes on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in mid-September.

She is among thousands of children from the Batken region who fled their homes – and whose schools were closed – as their families heard the first sounds of shooting the morning of September 14. Kayirgul, who has two Princess Leia-style buns in her hair and talks laconically, misses school. Ironically, she is staying in a school building that was converted into a shelter for displaced people. Although the school stopped operating, she is making the best of it. She even tried getting into the school library to learn from its books, but the door was secured with a heavy lock, she said unhappily.

Kyrgyz Ministry of Education reports that 26 schools and 30 kindergartens in the Batken region closed as nearly 137,000 people evacuated since the fighting started. Of these, ten schools and seven kindergartens were damaged either by shrapnel or direct attacks. Currently, most schools have resumed full or partial functioning, except the two that were heavily damaged. One of these schools, located in Ak-Sai, was taken over by Tajik-affiliated forces on September 16 and used as a base for two days.

In Tajikistan, at least one school educating 450 children was damaged by fire on September 16. In another school in Khojai A’lo, Tajikistan, a teacher, 51-year-old Bakhrom Khakimov, was reportedly killed while trying to protect his students. The Tajik authorities have confirmed that 200 civilians have been harmed in the hostilities.

Over the last five years, there have been more than 20 border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Over the past two years these clashes ranged from civilians throwing stones to government forces exchanging fire with heavy military equipment. At least six children were killed in the last two clashes, with dozens more injured. In addition to repairing and rebuilding the destroyed schools, both governments should commit to protecting children and education during periods of conflict.

The Safe Schools Declaration, already endorsed by 114 governments, commits governments to protect schools during conflicts, by not targeting them or using them for military purposes. Neither Tajikistan nor Kyrgyzstan have signed it. A joint decision to endorse the declaration would highlight both governments’ commitment to protecting the rights of children like Kayirgul.