The Pandemic in Conflict Zones

By Constance Ndeleko

Times have been hard with the wide spread of the pandemic across continents with its advent bringing interferences to our normalcy,  forcing us to adapt to a new normal and its impact hitting hard especially to those in abject poverty, those in conflict zones, refugees and IDPs, those in detention/juvenile and in the informal settlements.

As we strive to find a vaccine for COVID-19, we cannot ignore the need to speak about children in conflict zones. The trials these children have to undergo are already devastating let alone combating the pandemic.

Noting, since 2015 there has been an increase of attacks in schools those attacks had either a political or religious reasons. More than 17 M children are out of school due to armed conflict in Africa, according to an educational report done in 2015. A huge proportion of this is due to attacks on schools and military use of schools which could paralyze schooling resulting in destruction of infrastructure and could interrupt education even sometimes for a long time.

Closure of schools due to armed conflict denies children their fundamental right to education thus favoring the multiplication of violations against children’s rights like child marriages, child labor, recruited into armed groups and exposed to different form of abuse.

Conflict results into displacement, loss of lives, loss of livelihood, death and separation of children. Closure of schools due to the pandemic has resulted into loss of education. Schools not only serve an educational purposes but a multifunctional asset especially to the most vulnerable children who depend on food, mental and psychological well-being, development and growth, protection and safety.

Conflict results to children being recruited into armed groups, children forced into labor due to poverty, early child marriages, school dropout, separation and displacement.

This pandemic threatens African progress and the Agenda of silencing the Gun by 2020. It also aggravates long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.

Pervasive poverty, inequality, lack of good governance, corruption, and human rights violations remains major dynamics impeding progress, as are several armed conflicts and the lack of political stability in a number of countries and regions.

Covid-19 is aggravating the situation for children especially with restriction of movement – children have been confined; Lack of action for children suffering from social issues is not happening in order to fight against this pandemic.

Latest figures in the continent indicate that; 1 out of 4 children live in a conflict situation- thus children are denied right to education which could  last for years after the conflicts ends. The coronavirus pandemic has challenged the situation in African countries with more than 250M children being affected by closure of schools.

Closure of schools due to the pandemic means that vacant schools are at risk of being used by a range of non-educational actors, non-state actors and the military increase the risk of armed attack. The military use of schools can convert educational buildings i.e. Civilian objects to military objects making them legitimate targets and putting them at risk of attack by opposing forces.

As the virus continues to hold the world in its grip, there is growing evidence that women and girls are at risk in specific, gendered ways. We must highlight some of these for urgent action. COVID-19 continues to spread, it poses even more severe threat in conflict zones.

How can we ensure we champion for silencing the Guns Agenda during this pandemic? The answer could easily be the use of technology by youth to spread the word, which could attract and reach millions of people online however, in Africa internet connectivity is still a challenge.

Internet access is a luxury that many African youth cannot afford. Despite the growing reach of mobile phone usage, average Internet penetration in Africa stands at just 25%. (PSC report­) Technology is supposed to be a tool that empowers especially those who are at the bottom of the pyramid, but the cost to access the Internet is prohibitive.

Not all hope is lost; we need to find means on how we can promote social change in the continent by allowing communal participation by everyone towards combatting conflict by silencing the guns. This could be achieved through: Youth involvement, child participation and endorsement of the safe school declaration by member states and implementing it.

Over the past five years the Safe Schools Declaration has elevated recognition of the devastating impact of attacks on education and military use of schools and served as an effective tool for protecting students and educators from the harm that results from attacks.

Children are exceptionally able to advocate for social change and actively embrace the opportunity to work towards the promotion and protection of their rights.

There are 28 countries in Africa Union that have signed the Declaration of security of schools in Africa that has improved safety and security in schools from 15-20%.

Ultimately, there is a clear need of making concerted efforts to involve the youth more in peace and security efforts, and importantly to recognize the youth as a vital resource for peace and security, as an instrument for Silencing the Guns agenda, as well as key agents for socio-economic change and sustainable development in the continent.

There’s also a clear need to promote the adoption of peace education in schools – peace clubs, safe spaces and peace actors.

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