Four Proposals To Tackle the Growing Militarization of Schools

The Huffington Post, March 18, 2015

By: Gordon Brown

A couple weeks from now, the world will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping of about 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram.

But a mass abduction that was seen a year ago as unprecedented — sparking justifiable outrage across the world — now seems, after a series of further kidnaps, to look like a sadly increasingly familiar tactic in the terrorist arsenal. The unthinkable of 2014 is in danger of becoming the commonplace of future years.

One month ago, 89 children, aged between 12 and 15, were snatched while taking their school exams in the town of Wau Shilluk, near Malakal, South Sudan. They were taken by a notorious warlord who has made it clear they are to become soldiers — among an estimated 12,000 child conscripts seized by factions in the country’s civil war.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is still reeling, with too many classrooms still terrorist targets since the shocking Peshawar school attack three months ago when 140 innocent boys, girls and teachers were murdered.

And now we are entering the fourth year of the Syria crisis, which has forced nearly two million children into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries with few able to resume their education and many forced into child marriage or child labor.

As these indignities increase in frequency, abuses and violations of child rights — from Iraq to Nigeria, Yemen to Pakistan — are now more common than at any time in 40 years.

Children’s author JK Rowling said recently, “Children are ignored because who is easier to silence than a child?” But it is our responsibility to ensure that girls and boys in danger are not ignored but are kept safe.

In South Sudan, 70 percent of the 1,200 schools in the major conflict areas are closed, and 36 schools are being used as war bases by military factions.In Nigeria, by the end of 2014, a total of 338 schools were destroyed, at least 196 teachers and more than 314 students were killed, and more than 276 students were abducted. In the three states of emergency in the north, there is a growing perception of schools as “danger zones.” These perceptions of parents and pupils cancel out the gains achieved by targeted school enrollment drives, as they no longer see their schools as safe havens.

This is unacceptable. We must do all that we can to ensure that 2015 is seen as the year for ENDING the violation of the rights of the child.

A series of initiatives in the next few months are designed to transform the potential of education and come to the aid of children. In May, the World Education Forum will meet in Korea, and in July, the Norwegian government have called a conference in Oslo to coordinate bilateral donors. Later in July, in Addis Ababa, the third International Conference on Financing for Development will convene to discuss how we can fund education and the new sustainable development agenda from now until 2050.

And this week as a contribution to the decisions of these conferences, I am putting forward four proposals to tackle the growing militarization of schools and to make them safer.

First, I am calling on international partners to reach an agreement this spring on a new multi-million dollar Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies. This funding would end the situation where aid for education is only one percent of humanitarian aid and would allow the international community to act immediately to fund schools in conflict areas. We have set a deadline for progress on this new fund at the Oslo Summit on Global Education in July. There is no excuse for us not to come together and plug the gap that leads to 28 million children missing out on basic education.

Second, with the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Borge Brende, I am calling on international donors to end the nightmare faced by 500,000 Syrian child refugees in Lebanon by supporting a pledging conference on April 16 in Washington for the delivery of refugee education via a pact with the Lebanese minister of education. Our aim is to raise the $163 million needed to operate a double shift system in Lebanese schools. In the morning, the same schools will teach Lebanese students and in the afternoon, Syrian students.

Third, we are asking all countries to sign the International Safe School Declaration to protect schools and universities from military use during armed conflict. The declaration gives guidelines for the protection of schools that are similar to the protections granted to hospitals in conflict zones by the Geneva protocols. These efforts to protect schools from attack are now supported by 30 countries and international organizations.

And fourth, following the encouraging start to what has been called the Safe Schools Initiative set up by President Goodluck Jonathan and finance minister Ngozi in Nigeria, we are now announcing a new safe schools partnership between private and public sectors in Pakistan. With the support of Prime Minister Sharif, we will launch a1,000-school pilot to use modern technology to advise schools on how they can best protect themselves and prepare against any armed attacks. We will cooperate with the Global Business Coalition for Education company PredictifyMe which, on a pro bono basis, is putting its scientific expertise at the disposal of schools. And we are in discussions to extend this Safe Schools Initiative to countries such as South Sudan, Lebanon and the Dominic Republic of the Congo.

Now is the time to act. For millions of children, education cannot wait until civil wars and conflicts end. While we cannot guarantee that children will always be safe as a result of these initiatives, we can reassure parents and pupils the world over that everything is being done to counter extremist threats so that children can exercise their right to education in safer schools and do so free from perpetual fear.