No child should have to pay the price for adults' wars, but increasingly they do. Millions of children are killed, millions more are injured, and millions spend their entire childhood in camps and other temporary shelters. Children cannot wait for conflict to end before we begin to address their educational needs. It is shameful that, in 2006, there are still 115 million children around the world who are denied their right to primary education. It is even more disturbing that one-third of these children are being kept out of school because of the effects of conflict. Without education and without protection, they are being denied both their childhood and hope for the future.
Education plays a vital role in nurturing future generations. While enabling personal growth, it also contributes to economic and social development. It is our common responsibility to ensure that all children have access to education. Special attention needs to be paid to promoting education for girls. We must also encourage the development of educational curricula that promote openness, critical thinking and creativity.
The life chances of future generations depend on the ways in which we address contemporary problems. We applaud Save the Children for leading the challenge to rewrite the future for the millions of children missing out on an education because they live in conflict-affected countries.
Today, 115 million children who should be in primary school are not. That is an astonishing 18 per cent of the world's primary school-aged children. These children are denied their right to education, a fair chance in life, access to skills and knowledge, and the route to a better life for themselves and their country. Every day, these children wake up to a life characterised by hardship and work, and a bleak outlook for their future.
There are various factors keeping these children out of school, but one of the biggest barriers, and the most difficult to tackle, is conflict. As well as killing and injuring millions of children, conflict disrupts normal life, forces millions of families to flee their homes, separates children from their families, and reduces schools to rubble.
Save the Children has calculated that, of the 115 million primary-aged children not in school, at least 43 million - one in three - live in fragile states affected by armed conflict.(1)
Within conflict situations, systems tend to shut down. The traditional response from the international community is to initiate an emergency response, focusing on emergency aid such as shelter, food, water, sanitation and healthcare. Education is frequently left out of emergency responses, whether they are to natural disasters or conflict. When signs of normality return, and the international response starts to focus on longer-term development, education is given greater priority and is seen as a key component in helping a country return to stability.
The problem with this approach is that the world and its conflicts do not follow a neat, linear path. Countries slip in and out of conflict, and in and out of emergency and development phases, as we have seen recently in Timor Leste and Sri Lanka. Children often spend their whole childhood living in an emergency situation, receiving, at best, only emergency aid - such as in Somalia and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). By the time a country is considered to have entered the development phase, there may be no foundations left on which to build. For example, in Southern Sudan, there are few schools, an incomplete curriculum, a dire shortage of teachers with any training, and no education systems in place.
Save the Children was established at the end of the First World War to address the needs of children suffering as a result of that war, on both sides of the conflict. It was called the war to end all wars - yet almost a century later the world is riddled with conflict. The most terrifying difference is that today the majority of victims are civilians, not soldiers, and those left destitute are mostly children. The world has failed these children, leaving them without education and without hope or opportunity, in some cases for generations.
Education is recognised as a basic human right for every child, whatever their circumstances. At the current rate of progress, however, even if promises are kept, the goal of universal primary education by 2015 will not be met. This is because conflict issues, or proposed solutions for educating children affected by conflict, are largely absent from educational planning documents, international conferences on education, and debates about education for all. Urgent and effective action must be taken if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education and the 'education for all' targets adopted by the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000 are to be met.
Unless children affected by conflict are protected and educated, their futures, and the future of their nations, are seriously imperilled. Yet the world would be a better place for all of us if every child had an education and every child had a fair chance in life.
That is why 28 International Save the Children Alliance organisations across the world have joined forces to rewrite the future for the millions of children who are being denied an education because their countries are in conflict, and because the international community is failing them.
We will be working with children and their communities to meet our commitment to get three million out-of-school children into school by 2010, and to improve the quality of education for a total of eight million. We are also calling on the international community and national governments to ensure that the 43 million children in conflict-affected countries get the quality education to which they are entitled.
(1) There is no one authoritative list of conflict-affected countries. Save the Children has identified a group of countries that are both conflict-affected and fragile by cross referencing several lists. Countries identified as conflict-affected fragile states (CAFSs) are those that appear on at least two of the following lists: (1) Project Ploughshares' list of states having experienced at least one armed conflict during the period 1995-2005 www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/ACRText/Summary2004/pdf (2) the Failed States Index 2006 www.fundforpeace.org/programs/fsi/fsindex2006.php (3) the World Bank LICUS (low-income countries under stress) group 2004 http://siteresources.worldbank.org/IDA/Resources/2004CPIAweb1.pdf
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