Sudan Schools Crisis Threatens Grim Future for Children

Zahra Hussein, aged nine, forced to stay home helping out with household chores as money grew ever tighter, poses with her brother in eastern Sudanese village of Ed Moussa Hussein ERY AFP
Zahra Hussein, aged nine, forced to stay home helping out with household chores as money grew ever tighter, poses with her brother in eastern Sudanese village of Ed Moussa Hussein ERY AFP
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Sudan Schools Crisis Threatens Grim Future for Children

Zahra Hussein, aged nine, forced to stay home helping out with household chores as money grew ever tighter, poses with her brother in eastern Sudanese village of Ed Moussa Hussein ERY AFP
Zahra Hussein, aged nine, forced to stay home helping out with household chores as money grew ever tighter, poses with her brother in eastern Sudanese village of Ed Moussa Hussein ERY AFP

It's the start of a new school term in Sudan, yet nine-year-old Zahra Hussein stays home helping with household chores, forced to drop out as her family's money grows ever tighter.

Zahra quit primary school a year ago after she had just started third grade in a rundown school building with old classrooms, cracked walls, broken desks and toilets with little running water, said AFP.

Until then, she had attended school regularly, aced her exams and most recently, came top of her class.

"I had come third in my class in first grade," the young girl told AFP at her home in the village of Ed Moussa in Sudan's eastern state of Kassala. "My father doesn't have money anymore ... so he pulled me out of school."

Zahra is one of nearly seven million children in Sudan who no longer go to school, a victim of what aid agencies have warned is a "generational catastrophe".

Sudan is already one of the world's poorest countries, plagued by political instability, droughts, hunger and conflict, with an adult literacy rate of only around 60 percent according to the World Bank.

Sudan's children have for years faced mounting difficulties gaining access to proper education, especially in rural areas.

Families struggling with severe economic hardship were already pulling their children out of school under the three-decade rule of president Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in April 2019.

More turmoil followed and Sudan has been reeling from the crippling aftermath of last year's military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan that derailed a transition installed after Bashir's ouster.

Deepening political and economic crises, recurrent ethnic conflicts and prolonged school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic have compounded the education crisis.

Hundreds of teachers have repeatedly gone on strike against worsening living conditions.

On top of the political and economic instability, devastating floods this year damaged more than 600 schools, delaying the start of the academic year from July until October.

- No school, no meals -
Sudan was listed as the second worst -- after Afghanistan -- in a 2022 Risk Education Index, which ranked 100 countries on the vulnerability of their school systems.

"The education system in Sudan is very fragile and crippled with many underlying factors", from poor infrastructure to the quality of education, according to Arshad Malik, Save the Children's country director in Sudan.

"Out of 12.4 million in-school children, seven out of ten 10-year-olds are unable to read and understand a simple sentence," he said.

For children such as Zahra, Sudan's rundown school system still offers a way of getting ahead in life.

"I would go back to school right away if we found the money to buy meals or copybooks," she said.

Schools in Sudan had offered free lunches for pupils in some rural areas, providing an incentive for struggling families to send their children.

For many, the school meals -- including lentils, vegetables and biscuits -- were often the only food they would get during the day.

Sudan is already struggling with food shortages that have left a record 15 million people -- around one-third of the population -- facing "acute food insecurity".

In the nearby village of Wad Sharifai, schools stopped providing meals two years ago, severely impacting attendance, said a teacher there, Mohamed Taha.

Othman Abubakr, a day laborer who has nine children, says he could no longer afford to pay for the food, commute and school supplies for all his children.

"If meals were still available in school ... it could have helped," said Abubakr, who has kept only two of his children in school.

"Now, the children can help bring money home."

- 'Dire need' -
Abdalla Ibrahim, who owns a coffee shop in Golsa, has several of his seven children either working with him or at a bakery.

Ohaj Soliman, a 43-year-old day laborer, says "putting the children to work is not good ... but we have been forced to".

Girls are especially vulnerable, warned a report last month by the United Nations children's agency UNICEF and Save the Children.

Sudanese girls are more likely to be married off early or taken out of school to do household chores, said Save the Children's Malik.

He estimates around four out of 10 girls have dropped out of school in Sudan, in comparison to three out of 10 boys.

Malik warned that, if no action is taken, the likely result is "more poverty and inequality".

Parents who pulled their children out of school are bracing for an uncertain future.

"I know it's the biggest disaster to leave children uneducated," said Abubakr. "But we are in dire need."



Israeli Forces Advance in Southern Gaza, Tanks Active in Rafah

This picture taken in Khan Yunis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
This picture taken in Khan Yunis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
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Israeli Forces Advance in Southern Gaza, Tanks Active in Rafah

This picture taken in Khan Yunis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
This picture taken in Khan Yunis shows smoke billowing during Israeli military operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 24, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Israeli forces advanced deeper into some towns on the eastern side of Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Thursday, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US lawmakers he was actively engaged in bringing hostages home.
Fighting in recent days has centered around the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna, and Al-Karara, where the army said on Wednesday it had found the bodies of five Israelis who were killed in Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel and held in Gaza since, Reuters said.
Hamas militants took more than 250 hostages in the early morning raid into southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel retaliated by vowing to eradicate Hamas in Gaza in a nine-month war that has killed more than 39,000 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say.
Several were wounded in the eastern towns during Israeli tank and aerial shelling, while an airstrike east of Khan Younis killed four people, Palestinian health officials said.
Israeli bombardment intensified in several areas in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, as tanks operated north, west and in the town center, residents and medics said. Several Palestinians were also wounded in Israeli fire earlier on Thursday.
The Israeli military said forces operating in Khan Younis killed dozens of militants and dismantled around 50 military infrastructures, while it continued activities in Rafah, killing two militants.
In a speech to the US Congress, Netanyahu said his government was actively involved in seeking the release of remaining hostages and was confident they would succeed.
DISAPPOINTING SPEECH
Hamas described the comments by Netanyahu as "pure lies" accusing him of thwarting efforts to end the war.
Netanyahu's comments also disappointed many displaced Palestinians who had hoped for a clearer signal of an imminent end to the fighting, which has laid the overcrowded enclave to waste and created a humanitarian crisis.
"It was depressing, he didn't even mention ceasefire at all, not even once," said Tamer Al-Burai, a resident of Gaza City, now displaced in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
"People awaited some surprise, a ceasefire announcement by Netanyahu as a gift to (US President Joe) Biden, but they slept with much disappointment, as Netanyahu said he was determined to pursue war," Burai told Reuters via a chat app.
Deir Al-Balah, where tanks haven't yet invaded, is currently overcrowded with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, displaced from other areas of the enclave, home to 2.3 million people.
"Netanyahu spoke in a play, he spoke to clowns," said Burai.
Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators, backed by the United States, to conclude a ceasefire deal, seemed to be on hold, as Israel was expected to send a delegation for more talks next week.
In northern Gaza, an Israeli air strike on a house in the Sheikh Radwan suburb killed four people, medics said, while seven Palestinians arrived at a hospital in central Gaza who had been detained by Israeli forces and released in an area close to the border.