Thousands of children in three of Yemen’s 21 governorates have stopped going to school for fear of being targeted by revenge killings, according to international NGO Partners-Yemen (PY).
PY is running an awareness campaign in the governorates of Al-Jawf, Marib, and Shabwa which run from north to south in central Yemen and where the tribal system is paramount in social and political life. The presence and influence of the official authorities here is still limited.
PY has been getting children in schools that remain open to chant the slogan "To those who deprived me of my father; don't deprive me of my education", but thousands of children have stopped going to school for fear of crossing tribal boundaries.
"I haven't gone to school since 2005 when I was in grade six. I fear that armed tribesmen from Hamdan tribe may kill me," said 17-year-old Salim Yahya of the Al-Shulan tribe in al-Jawf Governorate, which has been in conflict with the Hamdan tribe for 40 years now. Dozens of people in the two tribes have been killed in revenge killings over the past 20 years.
The conflict between the two tribes first broke out in the early 1970s over disputed land, with each tribe claiming ownership. "Now, those plots of lands are no longer a problem. The problem is that of complicated revenge killings that continue to kill thousands of tribesmen and keep children out of school," Sheikh Sultan al-Aradah, a chief mediator in the conflict from the governorate, told IRIN.
Dealing with the conflict at this level is very complicated - even through traditional structures - as tribes consider it a "black shame" to remove the threat of a blood feud from the family or tribe of an individual who has committed murder, said a PY situation analysis paper.
According to Judge Yahya al-Mawri, a member of the Interior Ministry-affiliated supreme national committee for addressing revenge killings, revenge killings in the three governorates claimed the lives of 4,698 people between 1998 and 2008. He could not give a more up-to-date figure as no official records of revenge killings and conflict casualties have been released in the past two years.
The three governorates have a high illiteracy rate: "Fifty-six percent of the male population and 70 percent of the female population… are illiterate," he said.
According to 2009 statistics from the government's Central Statistical Organization, 1.3 million people live in these three governorates where the illiteracy rate is 63 percent, compared to the national average of 41 percent.
Revenge killings have led to the closure of several schools, especially in al-Jawf and Shabwa governorates. The situation is not quite so bad in Marib, said PY.
Abdulhamid Amer, chairperson of local NGO Social Development and Peace Association in al-Jawf Governorate, told IRIN that around 20 schools across the governorate are closed. "As many as eight schools in Maraziq and Al Sayda areas have been closed for five years now," he said, adding that thousands of boys and girls had dropped out of education as a result.
According to Naji al-Sammi, conflict management officer with local NGO Brotherhood Society for Peace and Development in Shabwa Governorate, more than a dozen schools in his governorate have been deserted for several years as a result of revenge killings.
"Al-Nabub School in Nisab District, where around 500 students were enrolled, has been deserted for more than five years now. Few students have moved to other safer areas to complete their education; most have stopped going to school since then," he said.
Many former teachers have started mediating between warring tribes: "As our school in Al Sayda District has been deserted for five years now, we found ourselves idle, so we started working as mediators to help end long-standing conflicts, district school teacher Khalid al-Qubati told IRIN.
The carrying of guns is commonplace in the three governorates. "Parents teach their kids how to carry and use guns, as well as how to kill… They don't care about sending them to school," said teacher al-Qubati, who is from the central governorate of Taiz, but works in al-Jawf Governorate.
PY’s awareness campaign is designed to ensure a safe environment for children in school and has reached out to over 50,000 local women in the three governorates to promote girls’ and boys’ education and the need to protect students from revenge killings, Nadwa al-Dawsari, PY executive director, told IRIN.
"Our awareness activities have been well received in communities and that is because we frame them in a way that is appealing to local culture and builds on existing positive traditions," she said.
According to al-Dawsari, the ineffective role of government institutions in these remote tribal areas, extreme poverty, and poor infrastructure are the key challenges facing awareness efforts. "If government institutions were involved, our campaigns could be much more effective," she said.
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