Ukraine joins the global effort against attacks on education
Last week, Ukraine became the 100th country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. This momentous news, that coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, commits Ukraine to protect its students, teachers and their schools from the devastating effects of war.
The Safe Schools Declaration is a global, political response to the growing issue of attacks on education during armed conflict. Together with the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), Save the Children has been calling for the Government of Ukraine to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration since 2015.
This is welcome news in a world where attacks on education are on the rise. According to research by the GCPEA, there have been nearly 10,000 reported attacks on education globally, harming over 17,800 students and teachers in the last five years alone. According to the latest GCPEA report published this week, attacks specifically targeting girls’ education are on the rise -- female students and teachers have been directly targeted for attack at school or along school routes in at least 18 countries facing conflict and insecurity.[i]
Children across the world have reported seeing other children killed in front of their eyes, bombs landing in their football pitches, their schools burnt down and textbooks destroyed. Many said they live in fear of the threat of attack and are forced to stay at home rather than attend school.
In Ukraine, where more than 750 educational facilities have been damaged since the beginning of the conflict in 2014, many children fear attending school and are distressed by the presence of armed soldiers in and around their schools.[ii]
Ekateryna*, a schoolgirl living near the contact line in Ukraine, told us: “When there was shooting, I did not go to school. I stayed at home and went to the basement with my parents. School is where we get our knowledge. If it is dangerous there, children will not be able to get that knowledge, and will be forced to stay at home.”
In our 100th year, we are campaigning to Stop the War on Children that effects 1 in 5 children across the world who live in war zones, many of whom live through unspeakable horrors that change their lives forever. We are demanding that children like Ekateryna who are caught up in war are given protection, justice and the practical help they need to stay safe and recover. Governments must uphold and protect international rules of war, both in their own military conduct and in the behaviour they demand from others if we are to stop the war on millions of children worldwide.
As part of the campaign and in partnership with the GCPEA, we have been calling for all governments to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and take concrete steps to ensure the right to safe access to education for girls and boys. As well at this, Save the Children’s Safe Schools programme is helping to keep children in countries across the world – including in Ukraine -- safe from hazards in and around school and ensuring that when children demand that safety and security is improved in their schools, their governments listen. For our efforts across both of these areas, in July this year ministers in Ukraine awarded Save the Children for our in work in the field of education in emergencies.
Half of United Nations member states have now endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, representing an important step towards ending the war on children and there is evidence to show that the Safe Schools Declaration is leading to positive changes on the ground.
According to new data collected by the GCPEA, reports of the military use of schools and universities significantly declined between 2015 and 2018 among 12 of the countries that endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in 2015 and experienced at least one incident where schools were used by the military.[iii] In Afghanistan, the Ministry of Education called on security forces to evacuate schools in 2016 after they endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. Military use of schools significantly declined thereafter. In Somalia, the African Union Peacekeeping Mission evacuated educational facilities, rehabilitating them first to ensure they were cleared of explosive remnants. Similar cases have also been seen in countries like Cameroon, Nigeria and Sudan.
70 years on since the 1949 Geneva Conventions were launched in the wake of the atrocities of the Second World War to protect human dignity, the Safe Schools Declaration is helping to preserve the civilian character of schools and save the lives of school children and teachers around the world. In a time where our international rules-based system continues to remain under threat by perpetrators of crimes and violations against children, the Safe Schools Declaration represents a proven tool for ensuring the safety, education and futures of millions of children caught up in the wars that they had no hand in creating.
[i] Afghanistan, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), Egypt, India, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen
[ii] Attacks on education in Ukraine, Situation Report, 9 September 2019, Ukraine Education Cluster
[iii] Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan.