Schools are increasingly targeted in conflicts and war zones across the globe, a leading children's charity warned this week.
In a report launched on Tuesday, Save the Children says attacks are on the rise as armed militias, criminal groups and even governments focus on schools as key battlegrounds.
The Future is Now report says Afghanistan is the most dangerous country in the world for teachers and pupils, with 2,450 reported attacks on schools between 2006 and 2009.
According to the charity, incidents include bombings and mortar attacks, while school buildings are taken over by armed groups or children and teachers are targeted in an attempt to intimidate them and disrupt schooling.
The charity says the number of active conflicts around the world has increased from 32 in 2006 to 39 in 2008, causing a surge in the number of strikes on schools.
Katy Webley, head of education at Save the Children, said attacks on schools attracted media interest.
For example, in 2004 Chechen terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, Russia. The siege resulted in 334 deaths, including 186 children.
"Children and the deaths or injury of children is always likely to receive wide media coverage, so a school can often be targeted to try and maximise the amount of coverage a group can get," said Ms Webley.
Save the Children is calling for schools to be given the same status as hospitals and religious buildings, while demanding that an attack on a school triggers a monitoring and reporting mechanism in the United Nations Security Council.
Speaking at a conference last summer, UN special representative for children and armed conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said action must be taken to prevent schools being targeted.
"This is a very disturbing phenomenon calling for international action to demarcate schools as safe zones and to protect the right to education during emergencies," Ms Coomaraswamy said.
DEATHS AND DAMAGE: A LITANY OF SHAME
- Afghanistan 2006-08: 2,450 attacks on schools; 235 learners, teachers and other staff killed and 222 wounded.
- Gaza 2008-09: 300 kindergarten, school and universities damaged.
- Colombia 2006-08: 90 teachers murdered.
- Democratic Republic of Congo 2007-08: 5,517 cases of sexual violence against school-aged children reported in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu.
- Pakistan February 2010: attack on convoy travelling to re-opening of a school in North-West Frontier Province; four schoolgirls killed and the school was destroyed.