On February 21st, Canada became one of 59 countries to have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, expressing its political commitment to protect schools from attacks and military use in wartime. This is a step forward for Canada, as in September 2016, Human Rights Watch had called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to sign the Declaration in honour of International Day of Peace.
An estimated 250 million children live in countries affected by armed conflict, with schools often attacked and used by the combatants. This places countless children, schools and teachers under the constant threat of violence and undermines access to education. Attacks on schools and universities have also been used to promote intolerance and exclusion, further gender discrimination, and perpetuate conflict between certain communities. Furthermore, when educational facilities are used for military purposes, there is an increased risk of the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and children may also be more vulnerable to sexual abuse or exploitation.
Education is not only fundamental to the development of children, but it can also serve as a powerful tool to bring communities together and help them thrive once conflict has ended. As we witness an escalation in attacks against schools around the world, there is an urgent need for the international community to take action to keep schools safe from armed conflict.
The Safe Schools Declaration represents an international political commitment to protect schools and continue education during armed conflict. By signing, states also commit to respect applicable international law and defend every child’s right to education. As UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova reaffirmed, these factors are “absolutely key for building peace and security.”
Another pledge countries make when joining the Declaration is to implement the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use During Armed Conflict. These are designed to make it less likely that students, teachers, and schools will be attacked in the first place. Countries also agree to deter such violence by promising to investigate and prosecute war crimes involving schools, and to minimize the use of schools for military purposes so they do not become targets for attack.
Canada endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration at an international child protection conference hosted by the French Foreign Ministry in Paris. By doing so, Canada has joined a fast-growing community of countries seeking to ensure children around the world can attend school safely, even during war. Canada’s endorsement reinforces its long-standing commitment to protecting and defending the rights of children and upholding every child’s basic right to education. Safe and peaceful access to schools allows children to thrive and grow, as well as obtain an education that will help them reach their full potential.
Following the growing support and commitment to the Safe Schools Declaration worldwide, Argentina is hosting the Second International Conference on Safe Schools in Buenos Aires on March 28th and 29th, 2017. This conference will provide an opportunity for countries to connect with one another and demonstrate their support for the Declaration.
Learn more about this commitment by visiting www.protectingeducation.org and help spread the word by using #SchoolsNotBattlegrounds to encourage world leaders to take action now!