Thursday, November 26, 2015

New bill sponsored by Sen. Ritchie gives law enforcement access to abuse and neglect records in cases of missing children:

Legislation cosponsored by North Country Senator Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, was signed into law giving law enforcement officials immediate access to abuse and neglect records when children are reported missing.
“As a mother and grandmother, I know there’s nothing more important than making sure children are protected from those who wish to harm them,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie’s 48th Senate District covers northern and western St. Lawrence County, including Ogdensburg, Canton and Gouverneur.
“When a child goes missing, every second counts. However, as we’ve seen, law enforcement officials are sometimes unnecessarily delayed as they try to obtain the details needed to investigate these cases. Through this new law, those investigating will more easily be able to access the vital information they need to bring missing children home, and to safety,” she said.
Through the new law, the determination for when child protective services should turn over records to local law enforcement agencies during an investigation is clarified.
According to the most recent available statistics available from a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, 797,500 children younger than 18 were reported missing in a one-year period of time, resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.
The measure (S.3520-A) was sparked by a case that happened last December in the Albany region, where 5 year-old Kenneth White was reported missing and later found dead.
While investigating the case, authorities were stopped from accessing Kenneth’s child protective records, which could have provided them with information on additional persons of interest. Instead, their search time was delayed before Kenneth was discovered and his cousin later confessed to attacking him.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Twenty-five years ago, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities.  In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, each month, the Department of Justice is highlighting efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.  This month, we spotlight the story of a child named Brahm and how the Department of Justice’s work enforcing the ADA is improving full and equal access to youth athletics in Colorado.  Participating in athletic competition is a formative experience for children across this country, and children with disabilities are entitled to participate equally in youth sports.
Brahm at a Wrestling Tournament
Nine-year-old Brahm has bone dysplasia, also known as dwarfism, which makes him smaller and lighter than other children his age.  In the fall of 2013, when he was seven years old and weighed approximately 34 pounds, Brahm joined a wrestling club in his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado.  His doctor had cleared him to wrestle children of a similar weight.  Wrestling tournaments were run by Pikes Peak Wrestling League (PPWL), a youth wrestling league that serves approximately 4,000 children across the state of Colorado.  Initially, for the regular season tournaments, PPWL allowed Brahm to wrestle in the six and under age division, even though he was seven years old, so that he could wrestle with children of a similar weight.  Brahm’s parents explained that Brahm has a disability, dwarfism, and it would be unsafe for him to wrestle children in the eight and under division weighing up to 45 pounds.  When it came to the State Wrestling Championship, however, PPWL refused to allow Brahm to compete in the six and under division.  Consequently, Brahm left the tournament and did not compete.
The United States recently reached a settlement agreement with PPWL that will ensure that, in the future, children with disabilities like Brahm will not be excluded from PPWL’s events.  Under the agreement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, PPWL will adopt and publicize a disability nondiscrimination policy, including procedures for handling requests to modify policies for wrestlers with disabilities.  PPWL will also train employees on ADA requirements and invite coaches affiliated with PPWL and USA Wrestling Directors to attend this training, free of charge.  In addition, PPWL will pay compensatory damages to Brahm and report to the department on its compliance with the agreement.
Title III of the ADA requires public accommodations, including youth sports leagues like PPWL, to reasonably modify their policies, practices or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations to individuals with disabilities and when such modifications would not fundamentally alter the nature of their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations.  For more information about the ADA, call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or access the ADA website at  ADA complaints may be filed by email to
Email links icon

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Operation Valsalya to track missing children:

The Kerala government has launched a programme named Operation Valsalya to trace, rescue and reunite the missed children with their family. The state government’s ambitious programme is envisaged to be implemented on the lines of the much acclaimed ‘Operation Smile’ project in Ghaziabad. According to police statistics, as many as 69 children have been kidnapped or abducted across the state till June this year. While 116 children had been kidnapped in the state in 2014, the number was 136 in 2013 and 147 in 2012.
The state Social Justice Department, which initiated the programme on a small scale recently, is planning to execute it with the support of various government departments. Cooperation and support of police, childline volunteers and non-governmental organizations have been sought in this regard.
Under the programme, officials, who received expert training in Juvenile Justice Act, Protection of Child Rights Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, would carry out searches in locations like bus stands, railway stations, pilgrim centers and so on. Searches would also be carried out in children homes and orphanages by vigilant squads. Identity of wandering children and inmates of orphanages would also be recorded.
The picture and other whereabouts of children, rescued from various parts of the state under the mission, would be uploaded in the website
 Trinity Mount Ministries Website

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

19,000 missing children were rescued through ‘Operation Muskaan and Smile’

The Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh will inaugurate the National Conference on Anti Human Trafficking tomorrow. The daylong conference is being organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs along with key stakeholders like State nodal officers for anti-human trafficking, officers of Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) set up in various districts, other stakeholder Ministries/Departments, NGOs and experts in the field of Anti Human Trafficking. The participants will discuss issues and challenges relating to Anti Human Trafficking and ways and means to curb the menace more effectively.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had advised all States/UTs to launch a sustained campaign titled ‘Operation Smile’ throughout the country for a month in January, 2015 to rescue the missing children and reunite them with their families. Encouraged by the response of this campaign, MHA rolled out another dedicated campaign titled ‘Operation Muskaan’ throughout the country in the month of July, 2015. A total of over 19,000 missing children were rescued during these two Operations.
The top performers of Operation Smile will be awarded during the Conference by the Union Home Minister.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Investigative report details 110 child abuse and neglect deaths:

A new report by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting revealed at least 110 children 17 and younger whose deaths were linked to abuse and neglect between 2009 and 2013 in Massachusetts, a third of whom had at some point been under the watch of the state Department of Children and Families. Pictured here are some of those 110 children. (Graphic by Joshua Eaton for NECIR)

By Jenifer McKim, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Christopher Berry's troubles started long before he killed his infant son in 2013. After surviving a suicide bombing and returning from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress in 2011, Berry racked up arrests for allegedly shoving his teenage girlfriend, deliberately running over pigeons, and stealing from his employer.

Yet, when state social workers got a report that the Lowell couple was neglecting month-old William James Berry in the spring of 2013, records show they assigned the family to the "lower risk" category of state protection for children they believe are not in immediate danger. These families are targeted for increased social services rather than a full abuse investigation.

A month later, Christopher Berry lost his temper over the baby's crying, shaking him for 30 seconds until his body went limp.

"I was holding him, and I was like, 'Oh, my God, oh my God, what did I just do?' " Berry told police in recorded confession.

William is one of at least 110 children 17 and younger whose deaths were linked to abuse and neglect between 2009 and 2013 in Massachusetts, a third of whom had at some point been under the watch of the state Department of Children and Families. Many others were likely known to the state but never subject to DCF supervision. The rest died without ever having a chance at state protection.

Records obtained by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting show that the vast majority of the dead were under the age of three, beaten, drowned, smothered or otherwise abused or neglected by caretakers. And their numbers have steadily increased, records show, from 14 reported abuse and neglect deaths in 2009 to 38 in 2013 – and state officials say numbers will likely remain elevated when the 2014 death toll is made public.

Most of these children's stories have gone untold, either because their plight wasn't known to the state until they died, or because the state's missteps and failures to protect dozens of them was long concealed by confidentiality laws and secrecy.

An examination of these sad cases shows that mistakes occur at all levels of the child welfare process – from at-risk youths the system failed to catch, to infants with open social services cases who fell through the cracks, to babies like William who were funneled into a program meant for lower-risk youths that couldn't save them.

DCF already has faced harsh criticism for failing to protect children under its watch, including Jeremiah Oliver, the Fitchburg toddler who disappeared and was later found dead by a highway in 2014 and 7-year-old Jack Loiselle of Hardwick who fell into a coma in July after his father allegedly starved and beat him. Just Sept. 18, DCF faced more criticism with the revelation that Baby Doe, the child found dead in a garbage bag on Deer Island this summer, was Bella Bond, a 2-year-old who had twice been under supervision of state social workers.

Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker held a press conference to say that DCF "has many systemic problems and we are going to fix them ... No one is standing here and saying everything is fine."

But many child specialists worry the state swings from one tragedy to the next without learning from past mistakes or implementing lasting reform. The state's own child fatality data is faulty, review teams set up to analyze fatalities don't often meet, and DCF social workers say they often are kept from learning anything about what went wrong when a child dies, the Center's review found.

"It's a very dysfunctional system. Not only is DCF failing, but the other eye of the state, the child fatality review teams, are largely nonfunctional," said Dr. Robert Sege, vice president at the Boston-based nonprofit Health Resources in Action who sits on a county-level review team in Suffolk County that has not met for over a year. "How do you make improvements if you don't open your eyes and look at what is going on?"

The New England Center and the Boston Globe obtained information about child abuse and neglect deaths caused by parents and caretakers through a public records request that took seven months to complete and cost nearly $4,500 to obtain.  Center staff also spent months reviewing court and police records, interviewing families and child experts for this story, and found that:

• Thirty-eight children who died between 2009 and 2013 had received services from state social workers, and 26 of those were under state supervision at the time of their deaths. Other deceased children undoubtedly had contact with DCF, either to receive voluntary services or because their family was the subject of a complaint that social workers dismissed. But DCF declined to release information about complaints that had been rejected.

• A six-year-old DCF intake system for maltreatment complaints – opposed by the union that represents social workers – divides children into high-risk and lower-risk categories, with less risky cases assigned to workers with less required training. Between 2009 and 2013, 10 children on the lower risk track died, including 7 in 2013, records show, raising questions about whether the system has enough safeguards to protect children.

• The DCF screening system does not require social workers to do criminal background checks of a child's caretakers when analyzing neglect and abuse complaints – an oversight that some child advocates say leaves a huge gap in assessing risk.

• The state keeps shoddy data on child deaths and its child fatality review system is crippled by lack of funds and resources. The New England Center found 10 children who were not included in state data even though their deaths were ruled to be homicide and, in most cases, parents or other caretakers were implicated.

Commissioner Linda Spears, named to run DCF in January, would not discuss individual cases that predated her tenure, but said that, much as a hospital emergency room has to determine the patients in most urgent need, DCF has to better identify and protect the most vulnerable children.

DCF faces a daunting task: responding to more than 92,000 child abuse complaints last year alone and figuring out which situations are so dire that children need to be removed from home, even though that could mean sending to foster homes that have their own problems. Last year, social workers substantiated 62,452 maltreatment complaints, a 34 percent increase over 2013, records show.

What needs refinement, Spears said, is "how do we make decisions based on risk factors that we know in the case ... I'm taking a very broad systemic view."

In contrast to the headlines about Oliver and Loiselle, most abuse and neglect victims die with little public notice. That includes Dejalyse Alcantara of Boston, who was put under state watch at birth in 2011 because of her mother's drug abuse. She died six months later in an overheated car, her mother asleep or unconscious in the front seat. Two-year-old Yarelis Rosario-Pereyra of Boston died allegedly of abuse and neglect in 2013 even though social workers had confirmed that she suffered bouts of maltreatment throughout her life. No one yet has been charged in her case.

Peter MacKinnon, DCF chapter president of the SEIU union local 509, said social workers are devastated when a child dies on their watch, but seldom learn from their managers about what went wrong or how they could improve their work.

"If you are truly looking to get a sense from DCF about what you did well, what you might have missed, you need to see what that analysis is," he said. "If you don't know what you are doing, how can you fix it? It goes into this black hole."

Child fatalities – from natural and abuse-related causes – are supposed to be reviewed by a panel of experts, but that system has ground to a halt. The state review team, chaired by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, has filed only four reports since its launch 15 years ago, even though state law requires it to file findings and recommendations annually.

State officials say the review teams lack funding to do their work, but regular appeals for more money from the state Office of the Child Advocate, have gone nowhere.

Informed of 10 homicide cases of children not included in the 2009-2013 data, DCF officials acknowledged that they sometimes miss maltreatment deaths entirely – because they don't always hear about them. In some cases, they said, medical examiners did not always alert DCF when a child's death was linked to abuse and neglect as required by law. As a result, the agency has undercounted child abuse deaths and may be leaving abusive parents with other children.

Spears called the increase in child maltreatment deaths "tragic but not surprising," blaming the jump on affects of the state's opioid crisis as well as an increase in reporting of infants who die suddenly due to unsafe sleep practices, like sleeping with an adult, which state officials consider a form of neglect. Sixteen child deaths in 2013 were sleep-related, state records show, five of those had histories of maltreatment.

And Spears said she expects 2014 death levels, not yet finalized, to remain elevated. "I don't think anything in the caseload and the community would give me any indication that the number will go down," she said.


William James Berry's shaking death, some say, points to weaknesses in a system launched in 2009 to help social workers separate cases where children are in imminent danger from those where the family simply needs help.

The policy, part of a national movement, was quickly embraced in Massachusetts: in 2013, 38 percent of child abuse reports were assigned to the lower risk group, DCF records show.

The higher risk cases, including allegations of sexual or serious physical abuse or neglect, are referred to social workers whose "primary purpose" is to investigate and "determine the safety of the reported child," state documents show. Social workers are supposed to "engage and support families" when the child is in the lower risk group.

The state social worker's union opposed the state's two-tier system from the onset, MacKinnon said, because of concerns that families considered lower risk may get short shrift. The social workers who do the full child abuse investigations are provided more training on how to interview children and ferret out signs of child abuse, he said, leaving people with less specialized training to handle lower risk cases.

Currently, caseworkers who handle lower risk cases are less likely to interview the child away from parents -- often a key to getting at the truth, explained Taunton DCF social worker Laurie Cyphers. They are less capable, she said, of pushing parents to cooperate if they refuse state help. She worries that social workers with less experience and less training won't be able to accurately assess safety risks.

"They don't have the training and they don't have the experience to fall back on," said Cyphers, a 14-year DCF veteran who mainly oversees lower-risk cases.

There is no national data tracking deaths of children who had been placed on the lower risk track. But there have been enough incidents, here and elsewhere, to lead some child welfare advocates to question the idea of a two-tier system. In Minnesota, for example, the murder of a 4-year-old boy who had been placed on the lower risk track prompted statewide scrutiny and recommendations to narrow, and perhaps do away with, the program.

In Massachusetts, 3-year-old Alyvia Navarro was put on the less severe track months before the autistic preschooler drowned in a pond behind a Wareham trailer home in a death DCF ascribed to neglect, state records show. There's also 10-year-old Isaiah Buckner from Athol who died from abuse and neglect-related injuries in July 2013, according to DCF, a case that remains unsolved. At least four other children on the lower risk track died of what DCF determined are neglect-related unsafe sleep issues, records show.

Sharon Crawford, Buckner's maternal grandmother, said she was not aware that her daughter was being visited by social workers, much less in what is considered a lower risk track. She said the state should have taken special care since her grandson was deaf and legally blind. She's angry that social workers never reached out to her, since she was very involved in Isaiah's life.

"Something is not right here," said Crawford, 53, who lives in Whitinsville. "Why would he be (placed on the lower risk track) if he couldn't hear and couldn't talk?"

Before taking charge of DCF, Spears last year oversaw a critical report on the agency by the Child Welfare League of America. The report found that DCF's budget cuts, lack of staff support and growing caseloads compromise the effectiveness of the two-tier system. The report also said DCF needs to put a higher priority on a "child's right to basic safety."

Now, Spears says the two-tier program needs to be tightened up. She noted that, when the system works properly, children can be shifted to the higher risk group as social workers learn more about the families.

"We may walk in and find that something else is going on, at which point the case can then go back over to the investigation response track," said Spears. "The paths are not so distinct."

A new DCF review on Loiselle, the Hardwick boy now in a coma, showed that social workers had dismissed multiple allegations of abuse and neglect as far back as 2008. But when they finally opened a case on the boy in February 2015 in response to two new complaints, the social workers placed him in the lower risk category, records show.

Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard law professor and national critic of the two-track program, said the Hardwick report "screams out" that social workers involved with the family were more concerned with keeping the family together than ensuring the boy's safety.

Especially for children in the lower risk category, Bartholet said, "Best interest of the child is clearly not the standard."

William Berry's case, which did not get the same kind of public scrutiny as Loiselle's, also raises questions about how closely social workers studied the baby's home life before concluding he was at low risk of harm.

When a maltreatment call comes in, individual caseworkers must decide which track to place a family on based largely on agency files and phone conversations, according to DCF documents. They can also request a criminal background check – a "Criminal Offense Record Information" or CORI – though it's not required.

DCF won't say whether staffers checked Christopher Berry's CORI when they received a neglect complaint in 2013. If they did, the record would have shown Berry was facing a series of pending criminal cases, including an allegation that he repeatedly shoved Tabatha Cupan, his 18-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with William, during a dispute in their Lowell apartment.

Mary McGeown, president of the Boston-based Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said simply knowing that Berry was a veteran should have prompted a closer look at the family because so many people return home suffering from mental issues, leading to increases in domestic and child abuse.

In the end, DCF assigned the family to the lower risk group a month before Berry killed his son, state records show.

Boston pediatrician and child abuse expert Eli Newberger said he was "appalled" to learn that social workers are not required to request a person's criminal history as part of a screening – saying that the state is ignoring key evidence that puts a child at risk.

Commissioner Spears said that DCF hasn't traditionally believed every neglect case requires that level of scrutiny, but agrees that the agency needs to re-examine the role CORI checks play in evaluating abuse and neglect complaints.

"We need to look at when CORI should be done and we should make those things routine," Spears said.

Of course, even a fullscale investigation by DCF is no guarantee children will be safe. Dejalyse Alcantara, for instance, died in March 2012 even though she had been under state supervision since birth because of her mother's substance abuse, DCF documents show.

D.J. Alcantara of Boston, Dejalyse's father, had separated from the girl's mother before the child's birth to deal with his own drug problems. But now he can't stop thinking of what he could have done to save his baby, who died of heat exposure in the back seat of a car while her mother was seemingly passed out in front. He said he told Boston police a month before Dejalyse's death about his concerns about his daughter's safety, because of the mother's drug use. But the police report shows the concern was not relayed to DCF.

Marivette Morales, the mother, declined requests to comment for this story. But Alcantara wonders how social workers could have failed to see that his daughter was in danger. He said the baby didn't even have a crib and slept on the couch for months.

Some argue that, until DCF makes a clear commitment to put child safety above all else, including keeping families together, child deaths like Dejalyse's will continue to be a troubling problem.

"Strengthening families and keeping children safe are both vital, but child safety must always take precedence," said Gail Garinger, former head of the state Office of the Child Advocate. "In some cases it may not be possible for vulnerable infants, especially those born prematurely or with drugs in their systems, to be safely maintained in their homes."

Perhaps as troubling as children who die under the watch of social workers tasked to protect them are the stories of the children who died of abuse and neglect between 2009 and 2013 that were never brought into the state system at all – there were 72 of them.

Social workers either dismissed reports of alleged maltreatment or never heard from concerned teachers, police, hospital workers or other mandated reporters at all, records and interviews show.

Some cases reviewed by NECIR include clear signs that the state missed opportunities to save them. For example, state officials knew that Alexis Medina Sr. had repeatedly assaulted his baby daughter – he served 18 months behind bars for that crime. But, released on probation, he suffocated his three-month-old son from a new relationship in 2013. State officials at the time said Medina's case had been closed and social workers were not aware he was again living with children.

It's also unclear how many times social workers dismissed abuse and neglect claims about children who later died of abuse and neglect. The state, citing legal issues, refused to provide this information for the children who died between 2009 and 2013. NECIR is appealing this decision to the Secretary of State. But it's likely that many had been known to state agencies: A 2013 state report, for example, found that in 65 percent of all child maltreatment deaths between 2001 and 2010, families were known to DCF.

For Laura Cyphers, the Taunton social worker who handles low risk cases, each new tragedy is a painful reminder of problems that front line workers know only too well. She wishes the agency would be more transparent and introspective, but, in her experience, that has not been the case.

When a child dies, she says, co-workers are interrogated by higher ups about what happened, but never see a final report or learn about findings – unless it involves losing their jobs.

"They go in saying, 'I did nothing wrong,' and they come out devastated," she said. "If we can learn from something, it is important."


Friday, September 18, 2015

Downtown party will celebrate Fireball Run’s stop in Florence, S.C.

Each participant is assigned a missing child from his or her hometown and given 1,000 posters to distribute in each town.

 A celebratory downtown block party will commence around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 30, as soon as the 50 Fireball Run teams make it across the finish line at the intersection of South Dargan and Cheves streets in Florence.
“The big event is just to make a fun atmosphere for the people that come to cheer on the drivers as they cross the finish line for the day,” said Cory Roberson, who works for the Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Before the party begins, the groups, composed of celebrities, astronauts, political leaders, corporate executives and other business leaders, must first complete the day’s missions at various tourist attractions around Florence.
Because it is a competition, teams will finish separately and some may come in earlier than others, said Holly Beaumier, director of the Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau.
People are welcome to come downtown as early as 3 p.m. to wander around and wait for teams to cross the finish line.
The Josh Brannon Band will be playing at the block party until 6:30 p.m., and there will be an after party in the Renaissance Courtyard behind the restaurants on South Dargan Street.
Free ice cream will be given to the first 250 kids at the party, and there will be multiple forms of entertainment, including the Williams Middle School robotics team, the Flying Tigers remote control car club and a classic car show.
The Fireball Run is a 13-episode travel series, which is televised internationally and streamed in the United States. This year’s season is called “Space Race,” because there will be four astronauts competing.
Though it may seem like reality television, the adventure show is actually what executive producer J. Sanchez calls “factual entertainment.”
The contestants are real people on a real journey, he said, and all of their experiences along the way are real.
Teams travel 2,000 miles in cars from Hartford, Connecticut, to Sanford, Florida, playing a life-size trivia game at each of the eight stops along the East Coast.
“Everything you might see on a trivial pursuit game now comes to life,” Sanchez said. “You look, find and often engage in those trivia moments.
But, perhaps most important, the series also raises awareness for missing children in the United States, he said.
Each participant is assigned a missing child from his or her hometown and given 1,000 posters to distribute in each town.
The Fireball Run, now in its ninth season, has contributed to the recovery of 45 missing children, Sanchez said.
Corey Wallace, general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites – Florence North and Roger Allen, general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites – Civic Center make up Florence’s Team Raldex. They will be passing out fliers for missing child Amir Jennings of Columbia.
Beaumier said she pushed for Florence as one of the show’s eight stops for several reasons.
“Any positive coverage is great for Florence,” she said. “But this event focuses on the tourism attractions and also on economic development because the majority of the teams are made up of the top executives at large corporations.”
They are coming to Florence to get a feel for the community and decide if it is somewhere that they would want to invest, she said.
At the block party, Sanchez said, there will be opportunities for locals to meet the participating celebrities and astronauts.
Notable celebrity names include reality television star Jacqueline Siegel, model Adrianne Curry, MythBusters star Grant Imahara and Wheels 4 Warriors tech Ray McCelland.
The astronauts are Capt. Jon McBride of the United States, Cmdr. Rakesh Sharma of India, Lt. Col. Marcos Pontes of Brazil and Gen. Jean-Loup Chretien of France.
There will be a start line at the intersection of Irby Street and Evans Street as the teams leave Florence the morning after the party.
Vehicles will be led out by the Harley Owners group and the Rolling Thunder, a group of motorcycle-riding veterans.
The vehicles will be lined up by 8:30 a.m. Oct. 1 and will leave from downtown at 9 a.m.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Middle East and North Africa unrest has destroyed young dreams, says UNICEF:

Education in nine states across region disrupted by violence and political upheaval, affecting schooling of almost 14 million children, claims agency
 A boy stands outside his school after airstrikes by government forces in the Syrian city of Marea in 2013. Unicef says unrest in the Mena region has affected almost 14 million children. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Enduring conflicts and political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa are stopping almost 14 million children from going to school and shattering “the hopes and dreams” of a generation, according to a new report from the UN children’s agency, Unicef.

The study says the education systems in nine states – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, the Palestinian territories, Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – are now either directly or indirectly affected by violence.

Of the 13.7 million children currently out of school in the region, 2.7 million are Syrian, 3 million Iraqi, 2 million Libyan, 3.1 million Sudanese and 2.9 million Yemeni.

Bullets banish books in South Sudan as education becomes a casualty of war:

Nearly 9,000 schools in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya can no longer offer classes, some because they have been damaged or destroyed, others because they are being used to house displaced civilians or have been commandeered by warring parties. With schools sometimes deliberately targeted, thousands of teachers have fled and parents are too scared to send their children to continue their education.

The report, entitled Education Under Fire, says that almost a quarter of Syria’s teaching professionals – or about 52,200 teachers and 523 school counsellors – have left their posts since the crisis erupted in 2011.

Over four years of conflict in Syria have also driven more than 4 million people – roughly a sixth of the population – to seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries, where their presence is placing huge strains on resources.

More than 700,000 refugee children in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey cannot go to school in their host countries because the national education infrastructure simply cannot cope with the increased student population.

Unicef estimates that in Yemen, where six months of fighting have left the country on the verge of collapse, 2.9 million children are not going to school – many of whom were not in education even before the conflict escalated in March. More than 3,500 schools – about a quarter of the total – have been shut down and 600,000 children have not been able to sit their exams. 

The ongoing violence in Libya, meanwhile, has left more than 434,000 people internally displaced and disrupted basic services including education. In the eastern city of Benghazi, enrolment rates have halved and only 65 of the city’s 239 schools are functioning.

Unicef also says that last summer’s war in Gaza has caused “massive destruction to infrastructure including schools – and left deep scars in the psyche of children and their caregivers”.

According to the UN, 281 schools suffered damage during the 51-day conflict and eight were completely destroyed. The destruction meant that nearly half a million children were unable to resume their education for several weeks when the 2014-15 school year began.

War denying millions of children an education:

Equally devastating, if less well covered, is the long-running conflict in Sudan, which has displaced 2.9 million people and left 1.2 million children under the age of five acutely malnourished. The country has also taken in approximately 50,000 refugee children from South Sudan who have fled the violence that has raged in their homeland for the past 20 months.

“The destructive impact of conflict is being felt by children right across the region,” said Peter Salama, regional director for Unicef in the Middle East and North Africa.

“It’s not just the physical damage being done to schools, but the despair felt by a generation of schoolchildren who see their hopes and futures shattered.”

Unicef has repeatedly warned that Syrian children risk becoming a “lost generation” who will be denied the education and opportunities needed to help them rebuild the country if and when the fighting ends. Children and parents caught up in conflict “overwhelmingly” say that education is their number one priority, according to Unicef.

The report urges the international community to increase its funding to enable children in the region to continue their education, arguing that through self-learning, informal education and expanded learning spaces, “children learn even in the most desperate of circumstances”.

The study also calls on host governments, policymakers, the private sector and other partners to help strengthen the national education systems in conflict-hit countries and host communities by expanding learning spaces, recruiting and training teachers and providing learning materials.

Last month, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that the impact of the Yemen conflict was already comparable to that of the much longer-running war in Syria.

“This is not Syria, which had been a middle-income country five years ago,” said Peter Maurer. “Yemen was poor even before the conflict started.

“From the outside, Yemen after five months of armed conflict looks like Syria after five years of conflict, and this is a very worrying signal.”

On Wednesday, the ICRC said that warring parties in the city of Aleppo were using water and electricity as “weapons of war” and deliberately cutting supplies to its 2 million inhabitants.

“Vital services for the people, such as the water supply, must be kept away from the politics of the Syrian conflict,” said the head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser.