According to a new report from UNICEF, one-quarter of children between the ages of 5 and 17 in the Middle East and Northern Africa do not attend school.
The report covered 11 countries in the region: Algeria, Comoros, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, the State of Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen; and noted that these countries make up over three quarters of MENA's entire population.
The problem is much deeper than the children not being enrolled in school. The study found that lack of access to education was one of the main drivers of poverty in the region, and nearly 29 million children are deprived of two or more of the minimum requirements of the most basic life necessities. These include "basic education, decent housing, nutritious food, quality health care, safe water, sanitation and access to information."
Other key findings include:
• Almost half of all children live in inadequate housing with poor flooring and overcrowding.
• Almost half of all children are not fully immunized or were born to mothers who did not get enough antenatal care or birth assistance.
• One in five children are forced to walk more than 30 minutes to fetch water or use unsafe drinking water. More than one third of children live in homes with no tap water.
The study notes that there are major roadblocks in finding the extent of poverty on children in the Middle East, beginning with the fact that the countries included rarely have data of their own.
"The return on investing in the most vulnerable children now is a peaceful and prosperous region in the future" Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for MENA, concluded at a conference in Rabat, Morocco. "It takes a combination of true leadership and courageous public and private investment from governments, civil society, private sector, individuals and the international community".