An attack on one school is an attack on all schools

Huffington Post / Theirworld, December 7, 2017

By Ben Hewitt, Director of Campaigns, Theirworld

Every child deserves an education without fear of violence or attack. Every school should be a safe place for children to learn, play and fulfil their potential. But every year millions of children and young people have their education disrupted – by conflicts, direct attacks on schools, military occupation of schools, abuse and other forms of violence. Each of these is an attack on the future of children, an attack on hope itself.

Last year a staggering 37 million children were out of school in countries affected by conflict. The terrible reality is that often schools are deliberately targeted in conflicts or other violent contexts. In 2016 there were almost 400 verified attacks on schools around the world – but the actual figure is much higher, and the 2017 total is expected to be higher than previous years. Too often, in too many countries, schools are still places of violence and fear.

To make schools completely safe spaces requires action from governments, donors and the international community. This includes nations signing the Safe Schools Declaration. Launched in 2015, it is a commitment by countries to prevent attacks on schools and universities, and to stop them from being used for military purposes. When governments sign up to the Declaration, they promise to use the Guidelines For Protecting Schools And Universities From Military Use During Armed Conflict. So far, 71 countries have signed, including France and Canada. 

More funding is also required for children living in countries affected by conflict and chronic violence. Despite the scale of the education crises only 2.7% of all humanitarian aid goes to education in emergencies. Time and again education falls between the cracks between emergency aid and long term development with the most vulnerable children and youth losing out. 

But we are already seeing evidence that this old way of thinking is starting to change. In 2016 world leaders launched the world’s first dedicated fund for education in emergencies called Education Cannot Wait and this week Germany announced €16 Million in support. Announcing the funding German Development Minister Gerd Müller said, “We must prevent a situation in which generations of children in crisis countries grow up without education, traumatized by violence and without opportunities for a better future. Education creates opportunities and gives people hope – and every child has a right to education.

And at the start of 2016 world leaders met in London and made a promise that all Syrian refugee children would be in school. So far 1 million children are in formal and non-formal education in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Progress is possible. The challenge now is for world leaders to keep the promise they made to the other 700,000 vulnerable children who were forced to flee their homes and schools in Syria. 

Every child has the right to a safe education, no matter who they are or where they are born. 

Education is the cornerstone of childhood development. As well as giving them the skills they need to succeed in life, going to school in a safe environment gives vulnerable children protection from violence and helps them to overcome trauma. Education is vital for the growth of every child, their community and their country and breaking a cycle of poverty and violence.

Hundreds of millions of children are growing up affected by conflict. These are children who can be given a safe place to continue their schooling and education. Instead, they are denied access to the most basic human rights and face devastating consequences on a daily basis. It is heartbreaking to see children without hope for the future, such as six year old Ahmed in Syria who said “I wanted to become a doctor but perhaps I won’t become anything because our school was attacked”.

To enable a child to reach their full potential, education is fundamental from the earliest years. It is key to opening up future opportunities to individuals, families and communities and also a means to educate children on other cultures, promote social cohesion and help eliminate the likelihood of future violence and conflict through lack of understanding. 

Join our Safe Schools campaign today by signing the petition asking all Security Council members to join France in signing the Safe Schools Declaration, and give millions of children around the world the hope of a safe place to reach their full potential. 

This blog has been written using content from a new Theirworld Safe Schools briefing called ‘An Education Free from Violence’