UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Nearly 30 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in countries affected by conflict and disaster are illiterate, triple the global rate, the U.N. children's agency said Wednesday.
UNICEF said in a new study that among these 59 million young people, girls are at the biggest disadvantage when it comes to getting an education.
It said four impoverished African countries with a long history of instability had the highest rates of young people unable to read or write — Niger with 76 percent, Chad with 69 percent, South Sudan with 68 percent and Central African Republic with 64 percent.
"These numbers are a stark reminder of the tragic impact that crises have on children's education, their futures, and the stability and growth of their economies and societies," said UNICEF's new executive director, Henrietta Fore. "An uneducated child who grows into an illiterate youth in a country ripped apart by conflict or destroyed by disasters may not have much of a chance."
UNICEF said it used the last data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics to calculate illiteracy rates among young people aged 15 to 24 in 27 of the 32 countries where the children's agency has launched humanitarian appeals. Comparable data was not available for the five other countries, it said.
UNICEF said that despite the critical importance of schooling for boys and girls, only 3.6 percent of humanitarian funding goes toward providing education for children living in emergencies, making it one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals.
Overall, the agency estimates it will spend approximately $1 billion a year on education programs over the next four years.
UNICEF urged governments and other partners to provide young children with access to quality early education programs, offer illiterate young people the opportunity to learn to read and write, and increase investment in education, particularly for the most disadvantaged.
"For all children to fully reap the benefits of learning, it is key that they get the best quality education possible, as early as possible," Fore said.