UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict: Attacks against schools as a grave violation of children’s rights

This is a summary of what was said by Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's Security Council Open Debate at the United Nations in New York. Checked against delivery.

10 September 2020
FILE PHOTO: On 15 May 2019, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore addresses the United Nations Security Council.
UNICEF/UN0312130/Elias, UN Photo
FILE PHOTO: On 15 May 2019, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore addresses the United Nations Security Council.

NEW YORK, 10 September 2020 – "Excellencies. SRSG Gamba. Civil society briefers. Council Members.

"On behalf of everyone at UNICEF, we welcome the adoption of this important presidential statement to protect education from attack. We thank Permanent Representative Abdou Abarry for making this issue a priority during Niger’s presidency of the Council.

"COVID-19 has disrupted learning for over one billion children worldwide.

"At the same time, we must remember those who have no education waiting for them.

"Including many of the 75 million children who live in countries in conflict.

"Today's armed conflicts are increasingly protracted and complex in cause, consequence and character.

"They are also increasingly violent. And marked by an alarming contempt for international humanitarian law by parties to conflict — state and non-state alike.

"This week, as schools around the world prepare to open their doors in the midst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity to once again shine a light on those places where going to school can be dangerous — and even deadly.

"Last year alone saw 494 verified attacks on schools — and more than 13,000 since monitoring and reporting began.

"These attacks are seemingly designed with one purpose in mind — to rob children, communities and countries of any semblance of safety, optimism or hope for the future.

"One-fifth of last year’s verified attacks took place in West and Central Africa, including the Sahel region.

"And year over year, the number is rising.

"In Burkina Faso, 55 schools were attacked in just the last year and a half. Conflict-related insecurity — combined with the pandemic — have resulted in the closure of over 2,500 schools as of August. This leaves nearly 350,000 girls and boys without education.  

"In Niger, over 340 schools have been closed due to insecurity — more than a three-fold increase since the start of 2020.

"It’s important to remember that the Sahel is already home to a disproportionate share of the world’s children who need humanitarian protection and assistance. About one in four who need support live in just 10 countries in West and Central Africa, including the Sahel.

"But the denial of education is just part of the challenge faced by these children.

"Out-of-school children — and children living in conflict generally — face a world of danger.

"They’re at higher risk of recruitment by armed forces or groups. Gender-based violence. Child marriage and early pregnancy. Abuse and trafficking.

"And numbers cannot capture the heartbreaking cost to the spirits of these young people when their schools are attacked.

"For one moment, look through the eyes of Mohammed —  a 12 year old.

"Mohammed was forced to flee Banki, in northeast Nigeria, because his school was attacked — and set on fire.

"He explains: “I was at school and then I heard shouting and we ran. A classmate of mine opened the gate. They destroyed everything we worked on in our books, and they burnt them. One of my schoolteachers was killed.”

"Mohamed has seen things that no child should ever see.

"His experience reminds us that protecting schools from attack, and providing education in the midst of these emergencies, is more than a humanitarian need.

"It is a moral obligation to children and communities alike.

"And 30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is clearly a moral obligation that we are failing to meet.

"Because the reality is that our words about protecting schools from attack —our policies, pronouncements, normative frameworks and even our laws — do not reflect the situation on the ground. For students. For teachers. For schools.

"Along with our humanitarian partners, UNICEF’s teams on the ground are doing all that we can to respond to the needs of out-of-school children.  

"From providing essential learning materials like school kits and textbooks in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.

"To supplying tents for temporary classrooms.

"To re-building learning spaces and training teachers.

"To providing counselling and psychosocial support to children who have witnessed the worst of humanity.

"To working with governments across the Sahel to provide distance learning opportunities — including radio, TV and online tools.

"Around the world, UNICEF is using the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate the development and use of these tools worldwide — tools that can provide an excellent alternative to a traditional classroom for children living under conflict.

"To support all of this work, we call on our generous donor governments to commit to multi-year, flexible funding to help communities rebuild education systems over the long term.

"This area of work is critically underfunded in the Sahel — with a UNICEF funding gap of 66 per cent across seven countries in the region. This is one of the biggest funding gaps for education globally — a gap that must be urgently closed before countries lose an entire generation of young minds.

"But we must also recognize that this work — as vital as it is — only treats the symptom, not the disease of attacks on education.

"Treating the disease means going beyond what we have done so far.

"Otherwise, how can we — who have the power to change this — look a child like Mohammed in the eye and tell him we are doing everything we can to make life better for him and his classmates and teachers?

"In short — we need this Council’s help to treat the disease itself.

"Lend your voice and influence to condemn all attacks on schools and students alike — whether through resolutions or presidential statements like the one we’re uniting behind today.

"Take concrete measures to fulfill obligations and commitments to protect education from attack.

"End impunity for those who violate international law — both parties to conflict and individual perpetrators. Whether at the national level, or through international tribunals. Let’s match words with consequences. 

"Demand that all states endorse the Safe Schools Declaration — as St. Vincent and the Grenadines did yesterday, becoming the 105th state to do so — and take steps to fully live up to its commitments. There is no excuse. We must protect education from attack and end the military use of schools. Now.  

"And finally — follow the lead of Niger and encourage future Council Presidents to make education under attack a regular thematic topic for your deliberations. Not just around the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, but on a sustained basis during the year.

"The security of countries and our world is directly tied to the education and protection of the children within these countries.

"Peace and prosperity — in the short and long-terms — cannot be separated from a child’s ability to learn and build a future for themselves.

"Finally we urge your Council to continue making this issue a priority, and give Mohammed — and every child living through this horror of conflict — a chance to build their future, and contribute to the lasting peace that we all seek." 


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