640Challenges for Bioethics from Asia
barracks. Numerous teachers have been forced to seek asylum in the cities to avoid persecution, consequently impeding children's education.
All Politics By Students
Moreover, political parties other than Maoists and their affiliated organizations have been 'using' schools as soft and defenseless targets in their protest programmes. Schools have been closed and students have been made to attend political rallies. The present conflict causing "Chaos in the Classroom" needs to be deliberated in a more meaningful and comprehensive manner. Due to the closure of schools by rebel activity and strikes by politicized student unions in Nepal, a UN report says the country - which has one of the highest dropout rates in the world - is not likely to accomplish universal entrée to primary education by 2015. According to the Millennium Development Goals Progress Report 2002, by 2015 only 50 percent of children in Grade 1 are likely to reach Grade 5. At present, a shocking 73 percent of schoolchildren drop out of schools in the Himalayan kingdom. The Nepalese education system, already wobbling under the Maoist insurgency, appears to be heading for an out-and-out breakdown, with the recent announcement of an indefinite strike by five student unions. Furthermore, thanks to strikes, schools were closed for more than 40 of the 180 academic days in 2003. While in the rural quarter, schools have been hijacked for providing organizational and other party training for the Maoists, in the urban areas, they are tools in the hands of motley student unions that use them to achieve political ends. Bizarrely, the strikes have nothing to do with academics. "Our agitation will continue till the king corrects his step of regression," vows Guru Raj Ghimire, the president of the Nepal Student Union, a sister organization of the leading Nepali Congress party. The unions have thrown in their lot with political parties who are demanding that Nepal's King Gyanendra restore parliament and form an all-party government. "Not just educational institutions, but the entire country will be brought to a standstill if the regression is not corrected," warns Ghimire.
Political Battle Field
In the rural hinterland, as well as the armed forces, the Maoists have unleashed a reign of terror. Under a rebel diktat, schools in Mugu District [Karnali Zone], 400 miles northwest of the capital, have been closed since December 25, 2003. After the underground Maoists' student wing ANNFS[Revolutionary]demanded that their cadres and student leaders be released from government custody, all schools in Bagmati and Narayani Zone were closed from December 17-21, 2003 affecting 500,000 schoolchildren. The Maoists' student wing has already warned of an indefinite strike after February 29, 2004 if the government does not meet their demands. One of their major demands is that the Center reveal the whereabouts of "disappeared" Maoist student leaders.
No Response To Peace
With the schools in danger of becoming political battlefields, UNICEF and other rights organizations have petitioned for turning education institutions into Zones of Peace. "Since education institutions in the remote areas have become battle grounds for the insurgents and security forces, we are proposing to turn schools into peace zones but we are yet to receive a response from any side," says Mr. Gauri Pradhan, the President of Child Workers in Nepal-Concerned Center, which is working in the cities to protect children's rights. According to the Ministry of Sports and Education, there are over 35,000 schools, including 20,000 primary (Grades 1-5) ones. By the end of 2002, more than five million students were enrolled in junior school (Grades 1-10), with three million at the primary level. If the present alarming security trend continues unchecked it will institute an environment were Nepal's children will be left with no other option other than to grow up as illiterates.
Additional damaging repercussions In addition to the children in the conflict districts who