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UNICEF

Schools save uprooted children

by Dagmar Wolf

In brief

UNICEF school in Kindig Camp in Darfur, Sudan.

UNICEF school in Kindig Camp in Darfur, Sudan.

Never since World War II have so many children suffered the consequences of conflicts, crises and natural disasters as today, according to a report that the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) published recently. The authors consider investments in education and protection top priorities.

According to UNICEF statistics, one in nine children is growing up in an environment marked by violent conflict. Their total number is about 250 million girls and boys. In 2015 alone, some 16 million babies were born in conflict regions. UNICEF points out that a new kind of war has become prevalent, with civilian people suffering more brutal violence than ever before. Children are often attacked in a strategic manner designed to frighten and demoralise parents. At the same time, terror organisations preach hatred and train youngsters as fighters. Many of them even use children for suicide attacks.

Violent conflict causes make people flee from their homes. Experts reckon that the world’s refugee population is bigger now than at any point since World War II. According to UNICEF, some 50 million girls and boys are currently on the run, with about 28 million trying to escape suppression and violence, and the other 22 million driven by poverty and environmental disaster. Many of the children are traumatised by the violence they have witnessed and are separated from their families. On their journeys, they are exposed to further risks, including violence, discrimination, disease and the lack of food, UNICEF reports.

Educational opportunities are missing in situations of conflict and flight, UNICEF adds. Many girls and boys do not go to school for years. As its members grow up without formal education and a total lack of prospects, an entire generation is at risk of being lost. To build peace at a later point in time, the UN agency warns, it will be necessary to involve the young generation in education and reconciliation.

Investing in education and protection is thus a top priority, according to UNICEF. However, not even two percent of the money spent on humanitarian relief these days is used for schools. UNICEF wants the international community to reconsider matters, and do away with the conventional distinction between humanitarian aid and official development assistance (ODA). Both approaches need to become interlinked to achieve long-term results, the authors argue.

Investments in education are investments in the future, UNICEF states, confirming an earlier ODI publication (2015). The reasons are that education drives change, promotes peace and lays the foundations for a country’s economic success. Education can save children who are uprooted and traumatised after having lost their homes, with schools fostering a sense of belonging. Relevant aspects include that schools can:

  • offer opportunities to learn and play in settings with a modicum of normality and security,
  • provide the psychological and social support that are urgently needed by stressed and traumatised children,
  • teach basic lessons concerning hygiene, health and security,
  • promote social cohesion and
  • inspire hope for a better future.

Children are “natural agents of change” and adapt to change fast, according to UNICEF. A better future will depend on children having a positive outlook on life in spite of war, violence and disaster. Sustainable development will certainly be impossible without their engagement. UNICEF emphasises that investing in the young generation is the duty of the international community as a whole.

Dagmar Wolf


Reference
UNICEF-Report 2016: Flüchtlingskindern helfen (in German). Frankfurt: Fischer, 2016.

Links
UNICEF, 2016: Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children.
http://www.unicef.org/videoaudio/PDFs/Uprooted(1).pdf
Overseas Development Institute (ODI), 2015: Education in emergencies and protracted crisis – towards a strengthened response.
https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/9714.pdf

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