Top officials of the United Nations have decried rising armed attacks on education, with a call for immediate and strong preventative actions.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the President of the General Assembly, Amb. Tijani Muhammad-Bande made the call on Wednesday.
They spoke at a virtual event commemorating the first International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
In his speech, Guterres emphasised that education, besides being a fundamental human right, is fundamental to peace and development.
He said in spite of this, armed attacks targeting teachers, students and education facilities were on the rise.
According to him, no fewer than 11,000 incidents were reported between 2015 and 2019.
“In addition to depriving millions of vulnerable learners from accessing education, this violence has serious adverse effects.
“They include increased drop-out rates, prolonged educational disruption, child recruitment into armed groups, early pregnancy and sexual violence.
“These attacks simply must not continue,” he said.
The UN Chief urged all Member States to honour their commitments under existing international agreements and initiatives aimed at protecting education from attacks.
One of such initiatives is the Safe Schools Declaration, which also seeks to prevent schools and universities from being used for military purposes.
While noting that 104 countries have endorsed the declaration to date, he called for more endorsements.
In his remarks, Muhammad-Bande said violent conflict had resulted in the displacement of no fewer than 30 million children.
The threat of disruption of education, according to him, has in turn triggered displacement.
“We are witnessing the military occupation of schools, which causes the campus to lose civilian status, thus facing threats of attack as a lawful military target.
“Furthermore, proximity to weapon-bearers places students at risk of forced recruitment, sexual violence, and abduction.
“It is most disturbing that 70 years after the Geneva Convention came into being, we must continue to remind the world that students, teachers, and schools are protected as civilians and civilian objects under international humanitarian law.
“We must take urgent action to protect and uphold the rights of children in all circumstances.
“No one is above the law, and all perpetrators of attacks on education should be held accountable,” Muhammad-Bande said.
He also urged countries that have yet to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration to do so, while also soliciting support for UNICEF’s Change Agenda.
The International Day to Protect Education from Attack was established by the UN General Assembly through Resolution 74/275 on May 28, 2020.
In the resolution, member states reaffirmed the right to education for all and the importance of ensuring safe and enabling learning environments in humanitarian emergencies.