Protecting Education from Attack

A child’s right to education cannot be safeguarded in conflict zones without education itself being protected. Education can be a life-saver.

By Constance Ndeleko

On 29 May 2019, the United Nations General Assembly designated 9 September as the International Day to Protect Education from Attack. This coincided with the fifth anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental commitment led by Norway and Argentina.  This year we marks its second anniversary.

Around the world, attacks on children continue unabated, as warring parties flout one of the most basic rules of war: the protection of children. The protracted nature of conflicts today is affecting the futures of entire generations of children. Without access to education, a generation of children living in conflict will grow up without the skills they need to contribute to their countries and economies, exacerbating the already desperate situation for millions of children and their families. (United Nations)

During the commemoration a joint statement was released by the African Union Commission’s Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS); Department of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development and Save the Children International stating:

Research conducted reflects gender discrimination as female students and teachers were directly targeted through bombing of girls’ schools, abductions, harassment and rape in at least 21 countries in Africa.

Reportedly, in at least 17 countries, armed groups and forces were responsible for sexual violence in or on the way from schools and universities an incident that should not be condoned but urgently stopped through collaboration of all stakeholders.

Attacks on education have continued under the pandemic and validated again the vulnerabilities of vacant schools being used for military purposes. But recent good practice has also demonstrated the value of the Safe Schools Declaration in protecting schools from attack and military use.

Education is the future of Africa. Consequently, it is incumbent upon states, inter-governmental and international organizations to invest more in the cause of protecting education. Protecting education needs silencing the guns in Africa which in turn contributes toward Aspiration 4 of the AU Agenda 2063, ensuring a peaceful and secure continent, a conflict-free continent with harmony and understanding among communities at the grassroots level.

In the last six years, the Safe Schools Declaration has effectively elevated the recognition of the devastating impact of attacks on education and the military use of educational facilities and served as an effective tool for protecting students and educators from the harm that results from attacks.

States that have endorsed the Declaration also commit to implementing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, a practical tool that provides guidance to parties of armed conflict and concrete steps to ensure the protection of education.

The Declaration commitments have been translated into binding African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) decisions on attacks on schools. The principles of the Declaration are further included in the AU Doctrine on Peace Support Operations, adopted in January 2021, which directly refers to the central commitment of the SSD, namely, to “ensure that schools are not attacked and used for military purposes”. This is an important milestone which reflects the increasing commitment within the African continent on safeguarding education.

Realizing a Peaceful Africa requires: Combating illegal possession of firearms by civilians-Encouraging all civilians who own illegal arms to hand them to their designated national authorities without fear of disclosure of their identity, arrest, or prosecution, the African Union has set the Africa Amnesty Month, every September. Thus, controlling illicit firearms contributes to protecting education from attacks and hence fellow Africans are encouraged to respond to call.

Many countries have revised their policies to restrict the use of schools and universities for military purposes which commendable but there’s a need to call upon states to redoub;:le their efforts to protect schools, teachers and students from attack and the military use of schools.

What are the efforts of Advocacy being implemented to reach SSD? The Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration will be hosted by the Government of Nigeria, together with the Governments of Argentina, Norway, Spain, AU Commission and GCPEA under the theme “Ensuring Safe Education for All: From Commitment to Practice” from October 25th- 27th 2021. The Conference is a forum for states, and multilateral and civil society organizations to share progress and good practice as well as challenges in implementing commitments within the Safe Schools Declaration, to inspire others to adopt similar measures and galvanize action for safe education for all. We encourage Member States to attend the Conference, to announce their endorsement and share examples of implementation on the Safe Schools Declaration in advance of, or directly at the Conference, states the report.

A child’s right to education cannot be safeguarded in conflict zones without education itself being protected. Education can be a life-saver. Out of school, children are easy targets of abuse, exploitation and recruitment by armed forces and groups. School should provide a safe space where children can be protected from threats and crises. It is also a critical step to breaking the cycle of crisis and reduces the likelihood of future conflicts. (United Nations)

Source: African Union Publication

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