Save the Children joins the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) in welcoming Ukraine’s commitment, but warns that ‘urgent action’ is needed to make schools safe for all children
Nearly 10,000 reported incidents of attacks on education globally in under five years with more than 17,800 students, teachers and education staff harmed as a result, according to the GCPEA
To mark International World Children’s Day, Ukraine has today become the 100th country to commit to protecting students, teachers and their schools from the devastating effects of war by endorsing the Safe School Declaration. However, urgent action is needed to ensure that all boys and girls can attend school safely, Save the Children is warning.
More than half of United Nations members have now joined the Safe Schools Declaration, representing an important milestone in ensuring safe, continuous access to education for school children during armed conflict. The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment to protect education during armed conflict, led by the Governments of Argentina and Norway with the support of a core group of countries.
In the last five years, according to research by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), there were nearly 10,000 reported incidents of attacks on education globally, harming over 17,800 students, teachers and education staff. The GCPEA is an inter-agency coalition formed in 2010 to address the problem of targeted attacks on education during armed conflict.
An estimated 420 million children – one in five - are living in areas affected by war.[i]
In conflicts around the world, schools continue to be deliberately bombed and destroyed, and schoolchildren and their teachers are being abducted, raped and recruited into armed groups, and even killed, at and on the way to school. The proportion of attacks specifically targeting girls’ education appears to have increased significantly during the last two decades.
Schools are used by militaries as barracks, bases, detention centres and weapons stores, exposing children to harassment, sexual violence, recruitment and bombings.
Children 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.
Since the Safe Schools Declaration was launched in Oslo in 2015, Save the Children’s Safe Schools programme has helped to keep children safe from all hazards in and around school, and support governments to put their commitments into practice.
In Ukraine, where more than 750 educational facilities have been damaged since the beginning of the conflict,[ii] many children fear attending school and are distressed by the presence of armed soldiers in and around their schools.
*Ekateryna, a schoolgirl participating in the Safe Schools project in Ukraine, said:
“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.”
Save the Children works with children, teachers, parents and the wider community near the contact line to enable them to identify risks, implement school safety measures, and ensure that their voices are heard by governments to encourage them to take steps to improve the safety and security of schools.
After participating in the Safe Schools programme, children reported feeling safer and more confident, and having an increased understanding of practices to keep schools safe.
Dariusz Zietek, Save the Children’s Ukraine Country Director, said:
“It is great to see Ukraine join that group and become the 100th, jubilee country, to endorse the declaration. As a leading child rights agency, advocating for the endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration in Ukraine, Save the Children is ready to support the implementation of the declaration together with the government and partners.”
“Education is key to realizing a range of social, political, and economic rights that are essential to building peaceful and stable societies. However, schools and universities have often become the battlefields where wars are waged, with students frequently being the prime casualties,” said Zietek.
“To safeguard learning in armed conflict, education must itself be protected from attack: the Safe Schools Declaration is a critical tool for ensuring that safe education can continue during the conflict.”
With today’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration, Ukraine now commits to taking concrete steps to ensure better protection for education, including monitoring and reporting of attacks on education and the military use of schools, assisting victims of attacks, prosecuting perpetrators, and promoting measures that enable safe education to continue during war. They also commit to using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.
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 of military use of schools.[iii]
For example, in 2016, following Afghanistan’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration, the Afghan Ministry of Education called on security forces to evacuate schools, after which the military use of schools significantly declined.
Veronique Aubert, Head of Protecting Children and Armed Conflict for Save the Children, said:
“Without safety there is no education, and no future for many girls and boys. It’s not acceptable that schools are turned into sites of death and destruction, used by armed forces and groups patrolling the grounds, putting children at risk of being killed, raped and recruited.
One country, one school at a time if necessary, we need to make education safe for schoolchildren and their teachers. The fact that 100 countries have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration is an amazing milestone, but there is still a long way to go. All countries must step up by endorsing the Declaration and putting the commitments into practice, including by taking immediate steps to account for the specific needs and experiences of girls and female teachers.”
100 years after Save the Children was founded, the organisation is calling to stop the war on children that is affecting millions of children worldwide. To ensure that happens, perpetrators of grave violations against children need to be held to account, parties to any conflict must adhere to international law and standards and measures on the ground need to ensure children receive the practical help they need to recover.
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[iii] Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan.