By Haruna Gimba
The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Gutteres said called on the global community to speak with one voice that attacks on schools must stop.
Speaking at a virtual event on Thursday commemorating the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, the UN chief said schools must be places of learning, safety and peace.
He lauded the education as not only providing knowledge and skills but also transforming lives and driving development for people, communities and for societies.
Nevertheless, he added, “year after year, this fundamental right comes under attack.”
Mr Guterres encouraged the participants to imagine being a child in a classroom eager to learn, or a teacher dedicated to shaping the minds of the next generation.
“Now imagine the horrors inflicted by conflict on learning,” he said, painting a picture of schools being targeted, destroyed – or used for military purposes – and of children facing violence, exploitation, even being recruited to fight – simply because they want to study.
The Secretary-General cited the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack in revealing that between 2015 and 2020, over 13,000 reports of strikes on education, or the military use of educational facilities, had been recorded around the world.
“And this threat is not lessening – as the horrifying events in Afghanistan are showing us so starkly,” he said.
Mr. Guterres reminded that these are not numbers on a page, but thousands of individual lives and individual futures. “The loss is incalculable,” he stated.
The UN called on all countries who have not yet done so, to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration – an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities, from the worst effects of armed conflict.
Endorsed by 111 States to date, the Declaration outlines concrete steps for governments to protect schools and learning.
“We urge Member States to go beyond their commitments under international law and put in place national policies and laws that protect schools and learners”, said the UN chief.
He flagged the need to “hold perpetrators accountable” by making attacks on schools “unacceptable and punished” in every country and jurisdiction, the world over.
Finally, the UN chief called for increased global support for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who are “working around the clock” to protect education, students, teachers and schools in some of the most dangerous places around the world.