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."



Sudan's RSF Agrees with UN on Steps to Ease Aid Delivery

Sudanese farmers plow a field on the outskirts of Sudan's eastern city of Gedaref on July 18, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Sudanese farmers plow a field on the outskirts of Sudan's eastern city of Gedaref on July 18, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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Sudan's RSF Agrees with UN on Steps to Ease Aid Delivery

Sudanese farmers plow a field on the outskirts of Sudan's eastern city of Gedaref on July 18, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Sudanese farmers plow a field on the outskirts of Sudan's eastern city of Gedaref on July 18, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Sudan's Rapid Support Forces agreed with the United Nations on some steps to ease aid delivery in areas under its control, a member of the RSF told Reuters on Thursday.

The Sudanese army has not reached any understandings on aid delivers with the RSF, he added. It is unclear if these steps could be implemented without the army's participation.

Meanwhile, a key supply route into Sudan's Darfur region, deemed at risk of famine by a global monitor, has been cut off due to heavy rains, a World Food Program official told Reuters on Thursday.
The UN agency has described Sudan as the world's biggest hunger crisis, with the western Darfur region most at risk as Sudan's 15-month civil war that has displaced millions and sparked ethnic violence grinds on.
WFP's Country Director Eddie Rowe said thousands of tons of aid are stranded at the Tina crossing on the Chad border, prompting the body to reopen talks with the army-aligned government to open an alternative, all-weather crossing further south called Adre.
"You have these huge rivers. As I speak now, our convoy, which is supposed to move over 2000 metric tons is stranded," he told Reuters from Port Sudan. Asked on the status of the talks that resumed this week, he said: "It's 50/50.”
WFP is now seeking clearances to move a large 70-truck convoy via a little-used, over 1000 kilometer route from Port Sudan to Darfur which Rowe said will involve crossing the battle lines of both the Sudan Armed Forces, the Rapid Support Forces and various militias.
He added that this mostly desert route has worked in the past but outside of the rainy season and that the last journey took weeks and was "fraught with a lot of challenges.”
In a separate interview, Mona Rishmawi, a member of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Sudan, told Reuters that she had met Darfur refugees in Chad who told her stories of escaping with virtually no water and eating grass along the route. "There's no doubt that people are starving," she said.