At a time in which multiple conflicts grip the world, we wish to recall the right of all children to an education, and to be safe in their places of learning.
Schools are places of learning. They are the space in which children develop cognitively, emotionally and socially, and often are the most visited site outside of the home for many young people. Given the significance of these spaces for children, their development and their sense of security, schools must always be places of safety.
Yet in 2023, for millions of children worldwide, they are not.
Wars rage across the globe, with attacks on education occurring on every continent. In 2022, the UN calculated that 2 billion people - or one quarter of humanity - live in conflict zones. Children suffer the impacts of conflict acutely.
One way in which children suffer is through attacks on education. In its 2022 annual report on the context of education under attack, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack found that between 2020-2021, there were more than 5000 reported attacks on education, which caused harm to 9,000 students and educators. These attacks occurred in at least 85 countries in 2020-2021, from Afghanistan to Colombia, Thailand to Mali.
It is troubling to note that conflicts have increased in 2023. We note with concern that conflicts in but not limited to Armenia, Sudan, and most recently Israel-Palestine, have proliferated this year. We also note the continuation of longer standing conflicts - in Myanmar, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Mali, Yemen, DRC, Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, among others - which continue to put children and their education under sustained attack.
In the short term, these conflicts rob children of their education and their sense of safety in their places of learning. In the medium to long term, conflict can damage and destabilise education institutions, workforces and infrastructure, with significant consequences on learners and their right to education.
In this sense, the targeting of educational facilities, learners and educators, or the use of educational facilities for military purposes, are both an attack on the present and an assault on the future.
The Right to Education Initiative stands unequivocally against attacks on education. We recall that all parties in a conflict are responsible for upholding the right to education. We affirm that no child should be at physical threat in their place of learning. No child should see their school hit by rocket blasts, or used as a military base. Schools are not military targets.
Instead, schools are the powerful space from which peace can be built. If the right to education is undermined, so too is the potential for peaceful solutions to conflict, and inclusive democracy. Yet if education is respected, if children and their lives and physical integrity are protected, there is immense potential for a future in which fewer people live in conflict zones, and fewer children grow up experiencing war.
This World Children’s Day, we call on the international community and all parties in armed conflicts across the globe to uphold the right to education, and all other children’s rights.