Statement by Mr. Martin Mogwanja, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF at the side event Children and Armed Conflict
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Mr. Secretary-General, Your Royal Highness, Esteemed Panelists, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Far too often armed conflict restricts children’s access to education and health services, resulting in devastating impacts on their lives and their futures and violating their fundamental right to education and health care.
In addition to the negative consequence of the fighting itself on education, it is regrettable that boys and girls living in conflict zones are often deliberately denied access to education and healthcare by warring parties. Parties to conflict have intentionally targeted school buildings, placed mines and other explosive devices in school compounds, and burned schools to the ground. Armed forces and armed groups have also attacked health facilities, looted medical supplies, and barred humanitarians from vaccinating children from life-threatening and debilitating disease.
Many parties to conflict have also used school compounds for military purposes. Sometimes, the children are provided with alternative learning sites, but often they are left without access to schooling. At times, armed forces have used schools as bases while the students remain and classes continue to be held. This co-location of soldiers and students poses particular risks to children who may be caught in the crossfire as these schools become military targets. Military use of schools can likewise have a chilling effect on school attendance, particularly for already disadvantaged groups such as girls.
The magnitude of the impact of this problem is undeniable. In Cote d’Ivoire, 224 schools experienced some form of attack during the recent post-election unrest, including destruction, partial damage, looting, presence of unexploded ordnance, stationing of troops on school property, and even the digging of graves on the school grounds. While children were not present in all the schools when the attacks occurred and some schools have re-opened, we calculate that attacks on the 224 schools means that the education of approximately 65,000 children is affected.
In addition to being a grave violation of rights, attacks on schools and hospitals have high financial costs. In Cote d’Ivoire, the cost of rehabilitating one school averages nearly $45,000 dollars, while in Afghanistan, the construction and equipping of a school that has been completely destroyed costs between $50,000 and $60,000. These structural expenses which must be covered by governments and donors do not include the equally important need to invest in human capital, to train and deploy teachers and invest in the quality of education.
Attacks on schools also result in considerable hidden costs for children and their communities. Schools are an important part of the normal daily routine for children. When they can no longer attend classes, another layer of their protective environment is peeled away. The restoration of education is thus seen as a critical psychosocial and protective response to maintain or restore a sense of normalcy for children experiencing the intense stress of conflict.
Attacks on a country’s education and health care systems are rampant in conflict settings and pose grave threats to children’s lives and future livelihood. They are attacks on children. All parties to conflicts should take the necessary steps to refrain from such grave violations and guarantee that children’s access to education and healthcare is not disrupted.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I join others in thanking the German mission for organizing today’s event. I wish to express UNICEF’s full support for Germany’s efforts towards introducing a Security Council resolution to add attacks on schools and hospitals to the list of grave violations that lead to listing of parties in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict.
Monitoring of the full range of attacks on schools and hospitals and their impact on children is on-going. However, we see a need to develop the system’s capacity to more systematically monitor and respond to the violations. This will require expanding upon the networks that support the Country Level Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, by reinforcing links to education and health partners including NGOs, and strengthening our monitoring methodologies and indicators to better gauge and measure the impact of attacks on schools and hospitals.
The introduction of a new trigger would build further momentum for greater efforts to address these challenges consistently and creatively. It would also offer a great opportunity to strengthen advocacy and awareness raising around the protection of schools and hospitals during conflict. This could be done notably through advocating for the designation of schools as zones of peace, as we have seen in Nepal and the Philippines, where the military is banned from using schools.
In other instances, we can seek to replicate the days of tranquility approach, which has in some instances resulted in all parties to a conflict agreeing to facilitate the delivery of key vaccination services to the population.
UNICEF also anticipates that action plans will be negotiated with armed forces and non-state armed groups who commit attacks on schools and hospitals in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. These agreements will be an important tool for ending this violation and ensuring children have uninterrupted access to education and healthcare.
UNICEF will continue to be fully committed to its work in providing education and healthcare to children in emergencies as spelled out in our Core Commitments to Children in Humanitarian Action. In the case of attacks on schools and hospitals, our programmes may include reconstruction, resupplying schools and medical facilities, designing teacher training programmes, psychosocial support, preparation of peace-building curriculum, advocacy to end the violations and guarantee access to education and healthcare for all children, and work to secure schools as zones of peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen, while the continued denial of education and healthcare to children remains a tragic fact, UNICEF takes comfort in the commitment the United Nations family and the broader international community make to ending this violation a global priority.