|© UNICEF Jalalabad/2007|
|With the encouragement of her father, Hakima, 9, attends a UNICEF-supported, community-based school in Afghanistan.|
Children have a fundamental right to a quality education, regardless of their gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity or religion. States are ultimately accountable for providing basic education to their citizens. What happens, then, when a government can’t meet its responsibility? What happens when a state is so fragile that its children go without schooling?
Whether due to a lack of political commitment, weak institutions or a deliberate disregard for human rights, some governments have effectively abdicated their responsibility for providing education for their citizens. These citizens include a third of all people living on less than a dollar a day and half of all children who die before the age of five. Many of these countries grapple with conflict, unrest and volatile political environments.
UNICEF believes that if governments are failing in their roles as providers of education and other basic services, for whatever reason, international agencies must turn to other first-line “duty bearers.”
In countries that are unable or unwilling to provide basic services to children, UNICEF and its partner NGOs typically work through parents and communities, drawing on whatever means they have at their disposal. In many cases, community-driven and community-based development has proved to be an important anchor for education in fragile states, rooting it in the social fabric.
At the same time, UNICEF ramps up its advocacy efforts in order to secure government commitment and support for quality basic education. In countries such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Timor-Leste, UNICEF has engaged with civil society to facilitate the transition to state-based systems when these governments were ready to take over and assume their responsibilities.
Delivering services in fragile states is a daunting task; UNICEF must contend with challenging operational environments and a complex range of political, technical and policy issues.
Each country is different; the interventions vary according to the circumstances. In states whose governments simply lack the means to adequately provide education, UNICEF works to fill in the gaps. Different strategies are used where governments withhold education as a sanction against opposing groups, or where education is used as a weapon to promote intolerance or perpetuate inequalities that fuel social tensions.
Typically, fragile states are where development assistance is needed most, but where it is most difficult to deliver. For this reason, fragile states are increasingly the focus of donor attention, through, for example, the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Education for All - Fast Track Initiative.
As part of these efforts, UNICEF is intensively monitoring and evaluating successful programmes in fragile states to determine the most effective ways to deliver education and other services, while building capacity and stability over the long term.
Education is not meant to be a luxury or a prize. Governments are responsible for educating all of their children, and a government committed to human rights wants its population to be capable and educated.
UNICEF wants to ensure that no child, regardless of his or her country’s political or economic situation, is deprived of a quality education, and to work to strengthen the country’s future, regardless of how fragile it is today.