Culture and Education

Getting the Kids Back to School Despite the Gang Violence in Haiti

Against the backdrop of a humanitarian crisis and gang violence in Haiti, UN agencies are warning that children are suffering not just from a lack of schooling but also through witnessing violence.

Students in the capital Port-au-Prince have missed hundreds of hours of class time over the past year and now, now, more than one million Haitians are facing emergency levels of acute food insecurity, according to a new UN-backed report.

As deadly threats to school security continue in Port-au-Prince, and northern parts of the Artibonite department, UN News examined the situation on the ground and how the UN is responding to the worsening educational crisis.

© UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

Tents for people who have fled their homes now occupy Gymnasium Vincent, a school and sports complex in downtown Port-au-Prince.

Massive school closures

By the end of January, a total of 900 schools had temporarily closed mainly in Port-au-Prince, depriving around 200,000 children of their right to education, according to UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Many other schools abruptly shut in Port-au-Prince in late February, when armed gangs coordinated breakouts in jails, freeing around 4,500 prisoners.

Gangs reportedly now control 80 to 90 per cent of the capital, and in the ensuing chaos, UN agencies on the ground reported cases of armed groups recruiting children, spiralling violence, looting and destruction.

“The Haitian population is caught in the crossfire,” said Catherine Russell, head of UNICEF. “Spaces for children have been transformed into battlegrounds. Each passing day brings new deprivations and horrors to the people of Haiti.”

Basic security is urgently needed for the lifesaving services and for aid workers to reach those in desperate need, she said, calling for the protection of schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure children rely on and for safeguarding humanitarian spaces.

© UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

A children’s playground structure becomes a shelter for people in the Tabarre area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Classrooms become home

As of late March, violence had displaced at least 362,000 people, with many trapped in the besieged capital and thousands finding temporary shelter in public buildings, including schools.

Each classroom turned into a temporary home for multiple families. Playgrounds became tented shelters. Gymnasiums were transformed into open dormitories for those seeking safety.

“Many schools are not accessible as violence is ramping up around them,” said UNICEF’s representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes. “Some are occupied by gangs, others by displaced people and still more have been looted or destroyed.”

On the afternoon of 25 March, heavily armed groups entered a downtown Port-au-Prince school and set fire to 23 classrooms. Aid agencies condemned the incident. 

In another incident in the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of La Saline, 3,500 children were trapped in two schools as gangs fought around them. UNICEF engaged with the armed groups for four days before they could secure the safe release of the children.

UNICEF has urged all parties to safeguard students, educators, parents and educational infrastructure in line with the Safe Schools Declaration, a global political commitment endorsed by 119 countries, including Haiti, for better protection measures and support for continuing education during armed conflicts.

© UNICEF/Herold Joseph

Bruno Maes (centre), the UNICEF representative in Haiti, visits a school in Artibonite.

Terrorised and traumatised 

“The situation is desperate for children,” said UNICEF’s Mr. Maes. “Children are killed, wounded, raped, displaced and denied access to basic services, including school,” adding that they are “terrorised and traumatised”, some after witnessing burnt bodies on the streets.

Amid the very clear dangers, parents “still want to send their children to school”, he said. “Education is at the heart of every Haitian family; people put a very high value on it.” 

As gangs continue to expand their control of vital roads and ports, their grip is extending outside the capital and the threat to school safety is mounting.

Despite this, the majority of schools outside the troubled gang-controlled areas of Port-au-Prince and Artibonite are still functioning. Many have admitted children who have fled because of violence and insecurity, although some parents are unable to pay school fees due to increasing poverty.

© WFP/Jonathan Dumont

Children in Haiti eat a meal provided as part of WFP’s school feeding programme.

Multipronged response

UN agencies have been working together to provide lifesaving essentials, like food, water and shelter, to thousands of Haitians in need and helping to get children back to school using new approaches.

Efforts include an International Organization for Migration (IOM) initiative currently providing psychosocial support to students forced out of school by the violence, and the World Food Programme (WFP) supports hot meals for 250,000 children across the country.

Part of UNICEF’s work is assisting families affected by violence and displacement to reintegrate children into formal education. Where this is not feasible, the agency works with partners to establish alternative, safe and temporary learning environments.

© WFP/Pedro Rodrigues

Volunteers prepare school meals with locally-grown ingredients in Gonaives, in northwestern Haiti.

Redefining schools

The goal is to get children back to learning and into school meal programmes, according to a UNICEF report, published in French in late March.

If schools remain shuttered, distance learning can be deployed via radio, television and e-learning platforms. UNICEF is collaborating with the Ministry of Education to find a way to deliver this via Radio Télé Éducative (RTE) broadcasts on Haiti’s national radio station.

Other opportunities for engaging students during the crisis include boosting capacities at schools currently accommodating displaced pupils.

Learn more about what the UN is doing to help Haiti in our explainer here.



  1. It’s heartbreaking to see the impact of gang violence on the education of children in Haiti. The UN agencies must prioritize creating a safe environment for students to return to school and access their right to education.

  2. Students in Haiti are facing a dire situation with schools closing due to gang violence. It’s heartbreaking to see children deprived of their right to education and living in fear. The international community must step in to protect these vulnerable kids.

  3. It’s heartbreaking to see the impact of gang violence on the education of children in Haiti. We need urgent solutions to ensure their safety and access to learning opportunities.

  4. It’s heart-wrenching to see the impact of gang violence on the education of Haitian children. How can we ensure their safety and access to schooling in such volatile conditions?

    1. EmilyBelle, ensuring the safety of Haitian children amidst gang violence is indeed a complex challenge. It requires a coordinated effort involving local authorities, international organizations, and communities to provide secure learning environments and ensure access to education despite the difficult circumstances.

  5. It’s heartbreaking to see the impact of gang violence on children’s education. The UN must take urgent measures to ensure the safety of students and get them back to school.

  6. As a parent, I am deeply concerned about the impact of gang violence on children’s education in Haiti. It’s heartbreaking to see so many schools closing and students missing out on learning opportunities. The UN needs to take decisive action to ensure the safety of children and get them back to school as soon as possible.

  7. It’s devastating to see how gang violence is depriving these children of their right to education. The situation in Haiti urgently needs to be addressed to ensure the kids can safely return to school.

  8. It is truly heartbreaking to see the impact of gang violence on the children of Haiti. The closure of schools and the ongoing threats to their safety are robbing them of their right to education and a peaceful childhood. Immediate actions need to be taken to ensure their safety and access to education.

  9. It’s truly heartbreaking to see the impact of gang violence on the education of children in Haiti. No child should have to witness such violence or be deprived of their right to education. The UN must continue its efforts to ensure that all children have access to safe and quality schooling, despite the challenges posed by the crisis.

  10. As a parent, it’s heartbreaking to see how the ongoing gang violence in Haiti is depriving children of their right to education and exposing them to trauma. The international community needs to urgently address this crisis and ensure the safety and well-being of these young students.

  11. How can the UN ensure the safety of students and teachers in such a dangerous environment? Has there been any progress or solutions proposed to combat the gang violence affecting education in Haiti?

  12. As a concerned parent, it’s heartbreaking to see the impact of gang violence on children’s education in Haiti. The closure of schools due to security threats only adds to the already dire situation of food insecurity. We must do everything we can to ensure the safety and education of these vulnerable children.

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