By: Senator Mobina Jaffer
As the summer comes to an end, children across Canada are excitedly preparing to go back to school. However, in many countries around the world, millions of children are deprived of their right to education due to ongoing conflict. A new report by the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, titled Children battling to go to school, finds that there are currently 28.5 million primary school age children out of school in the world’s conflict zones. An overwhelming 44% of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, children and schools are on the front line of armed conflicts. Schools are bombed, classrooms are used as barracks, teachers are threatened and killed, and children are recruited as soldiers, servants, and slaves. The result is a rising fear among children to attend school, among teachers to teach classes, and among parents to send their children to school. This is especially true for girls who face an increased vulnerability to sexual violence during conflict.
In Somalia, a young boy explained, in an interview with the children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, how the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab turned his classroom into a battleground. “Al-Shabaab came into the compound of the school and told us to stay in class,” he said. While the terrified students and teachers huddled inside, the fighters fired rockets from the playground toward opposition territory. After more than two hours, the fighters finally let the students go. As they fled, a rocket exploded in the compound and eight students were killed. Unfortunately, the experience of these students is not unique. For example, in South Sudan, security forces used at least 21 schools for military purposes in 2011. Similar stories can be heard in Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Afghanistan, Syria, and other conflict areas.
The impact of conflict on education has significant hidden and long-term costs. With millions of children being robbed of an education, entire generations are now growing up illiterate and unable to reach their future potential as a result. This not only affects the individual children, but families, communities and countries as a whole. The education crisis risks reinforcing poverty, undermining economic growth, and fueling additional conflicts in Africa and around the world.
Schools should not be battlefields. The thought of going to school should not instill fear. Schools should be places of hope and ambition where children go to learn and grow. I urge you and the Canadian government to encourage and strengthen efforts to end the use of schools as battlefields. All children, regardless of where they live, should have access to their right to education and the possibility of a better future.
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