Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Keeping Schools Open: Education in Conflict

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Keeping Schools Open: Education in Conflict

Article excerpt

Although some non-state armed groups protect and promote education, many others neglect it or even attack schools and students.

Conflict does not suspend the right to education, and non-state armed groups (NSAGs) have a duty to protect education in areas they control. Humanitarian law mandates the continuance of education in emergencies; the Fourth Geneva Convention, for example, obliges occupying powers to facilitate the "proper working of educational institutions in occupied territories", and emphasises that for certain children affected by conflict "parties to the conflict must ensure [that] their education [is] facilitated in all circumstances."1 Education is a crucial factor in normalising the lives of children affected by conflict and providing skills with which to survive and thrive.2

Where populations have been displaced by conflict with NSAGs, the relevant authorities - whether the NSAG now in charge of territory, or the state maintaining territorial control - are required to provide education as soon as possible. In the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Article 23(1) stresses that educational facilities "shall be made available to internally displaced persons... as soon as conditions permit."

More than half of the children who are currently out of school are in conflict-affected or fragile states. Given that modern conflicts are frequently internal armed conflicts, many of these states have NSAGs operational in their territory, and these groups can have a significant impact on access to education. While that impact can be extremely destructive, as with attacks on school, for example, it is not always uniformly negative. Education is one area in which NSAGs can have clear incentives to fulfill basic rights - particularly for NSAGs with political agendas and some degree of territorial control.

NSAGs without territorial control

Internal armed conflicts involving NSAGs have a high impact on education through mass forced displacement (a factor which interrupts education through discontinuity of schooling, impoverishment of families, and increased insecurity for facilities and teaching staff); destruction of educational infrastructure (both human and physical); and impeding humanitarian access (including the provision of emergency education programming).

NSAG attacks on education can include not only physical attacks on schools but also abductions from class to join armed groups, and threats to students, teachers and administrators. In the Swat district of Pakistan, for example, NSAG attacks on schools were prevalent in the years leading up to the recent displacement crisis, with more than 200 schools destroyed in that district alone by the end of 2008, of which 95% were girls' schools. An estimated 50,000 students were deprived of education as a consequence. And a Save the Children UK survey of a school in Kandahar, Afghanistan, found that "only about half of the girls attend school daily due to on-going threats on their lives."3 Attacks on schools or other facilities ordinarily used by children are prohibited by international law - yet they continue.

Fighting between NSAGs and others to control territory can have a drastic impact on access to education for displaced persons and others. For example, Save the Children UK estimates that the majority of displaced children in eastern DRC have had no access to formal or informal education since 1998. …

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