Source: Save The Children
Fahad*, 12, in his damaged school in West Mosul, Iraq
Between 2015 and 2019, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) documented over 11,000 reports of attacks on education or military use of educational facilities globally. These incidents harmed over 22,000 students, teachers, and education personnel across 93 countries.
They included destruction of school infrastructure, military use of schools, recruitment of children to armed groups and sexual violence at or on the way to or from school. This year’s UN Secretary-General report on Children and Armed Conflict confirms these trends with 927 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals and their protected persons verified in 2019 alone.
These attacks violate children’s rights to learn, survive and be protected. Children like 10-year-old Kiaviro* from the Democratic Republic of Congo:
“The fighters attacked, pillaged and burned my school and some houses,” explained Kiaviro*. “I lost my clothes and my notebooks. I don’t like the conflict.”
Attacks on education also exacerbate inequalities for the 420 million children living in a conflict zone – especially for girls and children with disabilities. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, attacks on education are not going away.
Hajira*, 10, attends school in a village in Kabul province, Afghanistan. She says she goes to school but is afraid of kidnapping on her way.
The recent GCPEA report, Supporting Safe Education in the Central Sahel, highlights the challenge of decreased reporting of attacks on education due to school closures and movement restrictions in response to COVID-19. This limits our current understanding of the pandemic’s impact on attacks on education.
In some contexts, COVID-19 related lockdowns and movement restrictions have allowed armed groups to increase their control over territories where government and humanitarian organisations lack access. In others, ceasefires have been signed. And in other areas where schools have reopened, attacks on education have immediately increased – like in Mali where 27 attacks on education and 500 threats on teachers and schools were reported in June 2020 alone.
Yet the overall trends and impact of COVID-19 on attacks on education are still to be defined.
Today – the world’s first ever International Day to Protect Education from Attack – is an opportunity for governments and international actors to strengthen their efforts towards the protection of education in situations of conflict.
KEEPING SCHOOLS SAFE
In contexts where education is under attack, Save the Children has pioneered an integrated program to support children, their communities and governments to protect children’s rights to learn and be safe. Our Safe Schools programming takes an all-hazards approach – meaning that we stand ready to respond to threats children face in and around school due to conflict, violence and natural and everyday hazards – including health risks like COVID-19.
We led the drafting of an inter-agency Safe Back to School Guide to support education, health, and protection actors to help children return safely to school during COVID-19.
With the added threat of COVID-19, we have adapted our Safe Schools programming to ensure Kiaviro* and all children continue to learn and be protected.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo – where the conflict in Ituri province has recently escalated with 167 schools reported as destroyed or damaged by armed groups this year – we have re-organised training sessions on the protection of schools with police and community protection committees to abide by COVID-19 health measures: the number of participants are reduced, everyone receives a hygiene kit with soap and masks to lower the risk of transmission, and larger venues are rented to ensure social distancing is possible.
Vlad*, 11, in his classroom in Ukraine
In eastern Ukraine, attacks on education increased in the beginning of the year but have thankfully decreased since the 27 July ceasefire. Since 2017, Save the Children has piloted and scaled up our Safe Schools programming in schools in both government controlled and non-government controlled areas to address conflict-related safety issues in schools together with children, teachers and parents.
We are supporting children like Vlad*, 11, through the COVID-19 school closures by organising a child rights club on Viber (an instant messaging service) as a safe space for children to share their experiences with peers during lockdown. Vlad is also an active member of his school’s safety committee, which carried out risk and resource mapping to identify risks and developed school action plans outlining concrete steps to address these risks. Vlad told us:
“Children need to study. I hope that there will be no more shelling and I can go to school safely. I hope that there will be peace and no coronavirus.”
Now as schools plan to reopen in Ukraine, we are increasing our work providing psychosocial support to help children like Vlad feel more confident about returning to school amidst COVID-19 and conflict.
In the Philippines, where 62 attacks on schools were verified between 2017 and 2019, children like Abdul*, 10, are especially frustrated during the school closures. Displaced by the ongoing conflict, Adbul lives with his mother and 10 siblings in a transitory site in Marawi City. His mother explains:
“My children are sad because they do not know when they are going back to school… [Abdul*] is actually the top of his class. He’s quite disappointed not to receive his gold medal.”
To support Abdul* and other children dually impacted by the conflict and COVID-19, we are adapting our strong expertise in Safe Schools programming to the COVID-19 context. Teacher trainings are now conducted through online forums and they contain messaging relevant for dealing with the challenges of both conflict and coronavirus. To date, we have trained nearly 850 teachers via Zoom and Facebook Messenger on self-care and psychological first aid.
Abdul*, 10, with his mother, Philippines
LEARNING MUST CONTINUE
Education is a fundamental human right and must be protected at all times – including during conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
As governments, civil society and communities work hard to get billions of children back to school safely, appropriate safety and security measures must be put in place. This extraordinary moment in time should be seized upon as an opportunity to advance the commitments of the Safe Schools Declaration and to work towards ensuring that children who were previously out of school due to conflict – including refugee and internally displaced children and youth – are soon safely back in school, where they belong.
Coronavirus may continue to spread, yet children living in conflict still have a right to learn and be safe. Let’s get more children than ever before safely back into school!
*Name changed to protect identity
All over the world, Save the Children is rapidly adapting existing work whilst preparing for outbreaks of coronavirus in countries with limited capacity to respond. We’ve also launched the #SaveOurEducation campaign to tackle the global education emergency.