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Second-chance exam for Darfur schoolchildren

Schoolchildren whose lives have been upset by fighting in Sudan’s south Darfur region have been given another chance at a crucial exam. Because of fighting, primary school pupils in Jabel Marra lost out on a chance to take a test that can allow them to move up to high school.Forty-eight girls were among the total 304 pupils, who took the exam in Nyala town this summer.

Set up by south Darfur’s Ministry of Education and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), it was the first time children touched by conflict there have had a chance like this.  Normally, these children would have taken the exam earlier in the year and in their own schools, but fighting, being forced out of their family homes and uncertainty has become part of their daily lives.  Sadly, about 255 pupils could not sit the second chance exam because fuel shortages in the region meant that they couldn’t get to the exam hall. The children who took the second-chance exam “are sending a strong message to the global community that they are here, despite the tragedies of violence and conflict, to contribute to future changes in their country,” said UNICEF Sudan’s Elamin Elnour.  “They are here to claim and exercise their right to education,” added Mr. Elnour. “They were strong enough to make a decision and they arrived at Nyala to take this exam against all odds, and despite the unpredictable security situation in South Darfur.” The girls who took the exam especially are role models for other girls whose future prospects greatly depend on their education, Mr Elnour said.

Some 2.7 million people have fled their homes in south Darfur since the conflict began in the western region, and the UN says about 300,000 people have died. The Sudan Liberation Army and Justice and Equality Movement started attacking government targets in early 2003, accusing the capital Khartoum of holding back black Africans in favour of Arabs.

In South Darfur there are an estimated 257, 000 school-age children and two thirds of these have been uprooted from their homes by the fighting. Inside the camps for families forced out of their homes by the fighting, there is a lack of trained teachers and equipment. And children who can’t go to school in their camp have to walk as far as an hour each way to get to the nearest school. This leaves out girls in particular because they are not allowed to walk a long way on their own, for fear of attack.

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