UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore gives remarks during the Third International Conference on Safe Schools
MALLORCA, Spain, 28 May 2019 – "On behalf of everyone at UNICEF, thanks to the Government and people of Spain for hosting this important conference. And for this country’s commitment to making schools places not only of learning, but of safety and protection.
"There is nothing more inspiring than seeing a child or young person learning. In a school. In a makeshift classroom in a refugee camp. In a tent. In a shady spot under a mopane tree.
"As they shape their intellect, and fill their minds with knowledge, they are also shaping our future.
"But each and every day, for millions of children around the world, attending school is a risk. It can cost them their lives.
"That’s because the number of countries enduring violent conflicts is at a 30-year high.
"And in these countries, one in three children are out of school altogether.
"Because intense and indiscriminate attacks are killing and maiming children on their way to school.
"Because every step they take can bring them into contact with an unexploded ordinance — or predators looking to exploit or abuse them.
"And even because their schools are being directly targeted — a flagrant violation of international law. Over the last five years, more than 500 attacks on places of education were recorded in nine countries.
"This is a tragedy, because education is not only the foundation of children’s futures.
"It can keep children out of the hands of predators, armed forces and groups and away from danger.
"In emergencies, schools are also a place where children can receive critical food, water, sanitation and health care.
"Schools provide stability, structure and routine — all counterbalances to the loss, fear, stress and violence that the children of conflict endure every day.
"And in every society, education provides a pathway to prosperity — and even peace.
"It’s a proven way to break down inequality, fight poverty and create avenues of opportunity for young people. All of the ingredients needed for a better future for people and societies alike.
"That’s why UNICEF and our partners are working on the frontlines of conflict to keep schools open and safe and to get children back where they belong.
"In a place of learning. In classrooms. Through informal education, like alternative platforms like TV, radio and the internet. By training teachers in disadvantaged communities. By working to rehabilitate schools and institute safety drills and procedures to keep children safe. And by distributing teaching materials to keep children learning, even in the heat of conflicts.
"And throughout, we’re working with warring parties to get them to stop all attacks on education — including attacks on and threats to students, teachers and schools. And calling for an end to the use of schools for military purposes.
"But we must also do far more to turn up the volume on this emergency, and gather more partners behind this important issue.
"Four years ago in Oslo, the world came together to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.
"Since then, 89 countries have endorsed it, committing to protect places of education from attack.
"We call on all states to endorse the declaration.
"But endorsements are only a first step.
"Commitment must be matched by action — especially as we work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
"So beyond endorsing the declaration, we also call on governments and donors around the world to commit to flexible, multi-year funding to support education in emergencies for all children.
"This includes not only learning materials. But also psychosocial counselling, gender programmes that give girls their rightful place in the classroom, and services and support for children who have endured violence or sexual abuse.
"And it also includes funding to boost security in schools and other places of learning. From experience, we know that perimeter walls, fences, gates and security protocols can help keep children and teachers safe — even in the midst of conflict.
"As we renew our plea for funding, we also renew our call to put children first by putting peace first. To stop the fighting so that children and their societies can build better, more peaceful tomorrows.
"Education can make or break a child’s future.
"But it can also make or break a country’s future.
"As children learn skills, economies have a chance to progress. Prosperity and peace have a much better chance to take hold.
"Education is about more than children’s rights.
"It’s about the future of societies.
"Let’s re-commit to that future.
"And let’s build it, side by side with those who will ultimately inherit it — children and young people. All of them.