Alarming levels of attacks on schools must end, Save the Children says ahead of key global Safe Schools conference
World leaders must take decisive action to immediately stop the targeting of schools and students in dozens of conflict-affected countries worldwide and hold perpetrators accountable, Save the Children is warning.
The call comes ahead of the Second International Conference on Safe Schools taking place on 28 and 29 March in Buenos Aires, which will bring together representatives from more than 60 countries and aims to secure firm commitments to protect students, teachers and schools from attacks. This global moment will also be an opportunity for states to endorse theSafe Schools Declaration that vows greater protections for students and teachers during war.
Regular attacks on schools, students, or teachers, or the military use of schools, have happened in 21 countries which all saw at least 10 incidents in the last four years, ongoing research has shown. A dozen countries saw more than 100 attacks or incidents of military use since 2013, research by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), a coalition of United Nations and non-governmental organisations, has shown.
While bombing and shelling of schools is common, students are also vulnerable when they make their way to class; soldiers have been known to snatch children off the streets and forcibly recruit or rape them. In the majority of countries affected by conflict over the past decade, armed factions have also used schools and turned them into barracks, arms depots and detention facilities, in effect converting educational facilities into military targets and exposing children to increased risk of bombing or recruitment.
The situation in the Middle East has become particularly bleak, with attacks on education in Syria, the occupied Palestinian territories and Yemen on the rise.
In Syria, more than 4,000 schools have been destroyed, damaged or taken over by armed groups since the war began six years ago. Last week, a school near Raqqa was reportedly bombed and at least 30 people were killed, while three students from a Save the Children partner-supported school were killed in a separate attack in Idlib. Yemen has also been devastated by conflict and it is estimated that more than 1,600 schools can no longer function.
Amal* a 13-year-old girl from Yemen, barely survived when a bomb ripped through her school late last year, killing her friends and teacher, and injuring her brother. Now their father says his children cannot sleep at night because they cannot forget the image of blood and shrapnel-torn skin. “I screamed, I couldn’t get out. I was so frightened. No one was able to come in and help me,” Amal recently told Save the Children.
By joining the Declaration, countries pledge to restore access to education when schools are attacked, investigate and prosecute war crimes involving schools and minimize the use of schools for military purposes. So far at least 60 states – including a majority of both EU and NATO members - have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and officially committed to amending their military doctrine, training, and legislation to ensure better protection for children in war, while also guaranteeing better reporting of abuses.
“Every day, our staff are seeing children bear the brunt of war and violence across the world. Far too many children are being prevented from accessing education or are being killed, brutalized or maimed while they study or try and go to school,” said Patricia Erb, President and CEO of Save the Children in Canada.
“These senseless attacks on students and their schools must end immediately. While we have seen some steps in the right direction, much more must be done. This is why Save the Children is calling on all states to join and implement the Safe Schools Declaration”
“We are on the ground in many countries, directly supporting access to safe learning, and training teachers and communities to increase their capacity to protect education, but global leaders need to take action and ensure children’s voices are not ignored.”
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 On Wednesday 22 March, Save the Children welcomed Armenia’s announcement that it had endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, becoming the 60th country to do so.
- The countries most heavily affected by attacks and saw more than 100 incidents are: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
- The research is being conducted for the GCPEA’s next edition of its Education under Attack report, scheduled for release in 2018
- According to the UN, 2.1 children are out-of-school children inside Syria along with 700,000 Syrian children in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
- The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack is researching abuses in 90 countries worldwide and will issue a full report next year