More than half the children in South Sudan are not in school — the highest proportion in the world, UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, said Tuesday.
Of the country's children 6 to 15 years old, 51 percent of them, or 1.8 million, are not in school, the agency said. South Sudan has seen ongoing violence for two years as government forces battle rebels.
Even before the conflict began, 1.4 million children were missing class. But since the war broke out, more than 800 schools have been demolished, and more than 400,000 children have had to abandon their classrooms, according to UNICEF.
South Sudan's government and the rebels signed a peace agreement in August, but violence persists in some areas.
South Sudan is followed by Niger, where 47 percent of school-age children are not in school, according to UNICEF.
Only 1 in 10 South Sudanese students who enter school finish primary education, amid a shortage of facilities and trained teachers, said Phuong T. Nguyen, UNICEF's chief of education for South Sudan. "There is a very, very low budget from the government to the education sector," she said. "It is not holding steady, and we see a decline."
A South Sudanese official said that enrollment went up from less than 30 percent before South Sudan became independent in 2011 but that the war and a lack of school buildings and qualified teachers have slowed progress.
Defense spending takes a large percentage of the national budget, with only 4 percent going to education, said Avelino Adrongo Said, the director-general of planning and budget in the Ministry of Education.
Worldwide, almost one-fourth of children in conflict zones are missing out on their education — nearly 24 million children out of more than 109 million living in countries at war, UNICEF said.