In 2015, more than 50 countries endorsed the international Safe Schools Declaration, which aims to reduce the impact of armed conflict on educational systems. It's a desperately needed initiative. According to Human Rights Watch, schools in at least 26 armed conflicts across four continents have been used for military purposes over the last decade.
Trace Dominguez has the story in today's Seeker Daily report.
Schools and children are supposed to be protected under existing laws of war and international human rights accords. The 1949 Geneva Convention established rules that occupying powers must "facilitate the proper working of [educational facilities]" and even provide education for children who are displaced because of war. Additional protocols were added in 1977.
But violations of these laws have been tragically frequent. For instance, the Sudanese government has bombed as many as 20 schools in their military campaign against rebel forces in civilian areas since 2011. As of 2012, just 12 percent of Somali boys and 8 percent of girls were enrolled in secondary school.
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Why do armed forces target schools? Sometimes the reasons are simply practical or strategic. Although international law heavily restricts military use of schools, it does not specifically outlaw the practice. As a result, schools in Somalia are regularly used as bases by both rebels and state security forces.
Sometimes the reasons are ideological. Certain opposition groups in Somalis are known to target schools because they represents the very institutions they oppose, like government-sponsored education for girls. Clashes between the militant group Al-Shabaab and government-backed opposition forces have led to thousands of student and faculty casualties. Many students who have not been killed or coerced into the insurgency have been forced to flee after their school was attacked or occupied.
It doesn't just happen in undeveloped countries, either. In the Ukraine, more than 250 schools have been closed because of conflict between government forces and Russian-backed militants.
In 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2225, which exhorts governments to take concrete measures to deter the use of schools by armed forces. Unfortunately, history suggests that international humanitarian laws are not effective in keeping school and students safe during wartime.
-- Glenn McDonald
Human Rights Watch: Sudan: Bombing Campaign's Heavy Toll on Children
Huffington Post: UN Calls for Schools to be 'Out of Bounds' in War Zones Amid Rising Attacks
CNN: One Year After Garissa, Schools are Recruiting Grounds for Extremists