UN Security Council Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict should highlight the Safe Schools Declaration as a protective tool


(New York, April 19, 2019) – The United Nations Security Council should support specific actions to protect students and teachers from the widespread use of sexual violence by parties to armed conflict, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) today. 

Endorsing and implementing the Safe Schools Declaration is a concrete action that UN Member States can take to protect students and teachers from sexual violence by protecting schools and universities from attack. 

“No child should have to live through the horror of sexual violence by armed forces and groups at school or on their way to school,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA Executive Director. “Such attacks are particularly abhorrent in schools that should be safe places for children.”

Sexual violence is one form of attacks on education. Other forms of attacks on education can also result in sexual violence, such as abductions and recruitment into armed forces and groups that occur in schools and universities, or when educational institutions are used for military purposes. 

“By protecting education from attack during war, the Safe Schools Declaration is also an important tool for preventing sexual violence during hostilities,” said Nijhowne.

This call comes ahead of the Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict to be hosted by Germany in New York City on April 23, 2019. The debate will focus on the findings of the Secretary-General’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence, released in March. The report covers 19 country situations in which sexual violence is used as a tactic of war and includes incidents of this violence being directed at students and teachers. For example, the report documents how women and girls are targeted for sexual violence by parties to conflict while walking to school in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It also cites the kidnapping of 110 schoolgirls from a secondary school in northeast Nigeria. The girls were subjected to forced marriage, rape, and physical and emotional violence.

The report echoes GCPEA’s own findings that in at least 17 countries from 2013 and 2017, parties to conflict were responsible for sexual violence at or on the way to or from school or university. In Nigeria, GCPEA found that from 2009 to 2018, approximately 600 women and girls were abducted from schools with many then forced to become the “wives” or sex slaves of soldiers, or raped when they refused to marry the soldiers or convert to Islam. These forms of attack are significantly underreported because data on sexual violence by warring parties rarely indicates whether incidents occurred at or on the way to or from educational institutions.

To date, 86 countries have joined the Safe Schools Declaration, including the majority of current Security Council members. The Government of Spain will host the Third International Conference on Safe Schools on May 28-29, 2019 at the Palace of Congress, Palma de Mallorca. The Palma Conference will provide an opportunity for States to share experience and good practice in protecting education.

One focus of the conference will be on the different ways in which males and females are impacted by attacks on education. For example, while attacks are devastating for all, for girls the risk of pregnancy through rape has additional implications, including serious health concerns, and stigma and ostracism from families and communities. Girls are often the first to drop out of school and the last to return when there are attacks on education, including sexual violence. Gender roles privilege boys’ education when resources are limited, and girls who are out of school for even a short time are at an increased risk of early marriage, which further reduces the likelihood of girls returning to school.  

“At the Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Security Council and other Member States should speak out about how armed forces and groups too often target schools and universities to rape students and abduct them to serve as sex slaves,” said Nijhowne. “The Safe Schools Declaration provides clear guidance on how States can better protect students and teachers by protecting their places of learning, and States should commit to putting these measures into action.”