UNICEF Australia is calling on the Australian Government to send a clear message that schools must not be attacked or occupied for military purposes.
“Ending attacks on schools is an urgent priority,” said Nicole Breeze, UNICEF Australia’s Director of Policy and Advocacy. “Australia can demonstrate its political commitment to keeping children and schools safe during war by signing on to the international Safe Schools Declaration, which more than 50 countries have already joined.”
This call comes as the conflict in Syria enters its sixth year and with the release of UNICEF’s new report “No Place for Children” that reveals how their rights are under siege with nearly 1,500 grave violations against children verified in 2015. More than a third of these children were killed while at school or on their way to and from school.
“Our call to keep kids safe in school is urgent and essential. UNICEF is also calling on Australia to play its part in the international community by undertaking five critical steps to protect children,” said Breeze.
· End violations of children’s rights;
· Lift sieges and improve humanitarian access inside Syria;
· Secure US$ 1.4 billion in 2016 to provide children with learning opportunities;
· Restore children’s dignity and strengthen their psychological wellbeing; and
· Turn funding pledges into commitments. UNICEF has received only 6 per cent of the funding required in 2016 to support Syrian children both inside the country and those living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
One of the most significant challenges to children in the conflict is providing them with education. School attendance rates inside Syria have hit rock bottom. UNICEF estimates that more than 2.1 million children inside Syria, and 700,000 in neighbouring countries, are out of school.
“Schools are a vital source of safety and hope for children, allowing them to learn, play and escape the horrors of war,” said Breeze.
UNICEF interviewed a number of children for the report including 13 year old Samir, who described the daily challenge of walking to school with his two younger brothers in Aleppo. “There was a building with snipers targeting the street,” he said. “We used to run across it so they would not hit us.”
More than a quarter of the country’s schools have been lost – 6000 cannot be used because they have been damaged by violence, forced to close, used for fighting or sheltering hundreds of displaced families.
“Five years into the war, millions of children have grown up too fast and way ahead of their time,” said Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “As the war continues, children are fighting an adult war, they are continuing to drop out of school, and many are forced into labour, while girls are marrying early.”
One in three Syrian children, an estimated 3.7 million, have been born since the conflict began five years ago – their lives shaped by fear, violence and displacement.
UNICEF’s “No Lost Generation Initiative” is committed to restoring learning and providing opportunities to young people. Global education activist Malala Yousafzai said, “US$ 1.4 billion to educate Syria’s children is a number the world can afford. Losing this generation is a cost the world cannot.”
“It’s not too late for Syria’s children. They continue to have hope for a life of dignity and possibility. They still cherish dreams of peace and have the chance to fulfil them,” Salama said.
Peace talks begin in Geneva this week.
Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities and currently works at Redkite, a childhood cancer charity.