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Children across New Zealand are back in school for the new academic year, and many will be looking forward to studying, playing sport, and maybe singing in the school choir.

This isn't the case for many children around the world who are denied their right to education.

Close to home, many refugee and asylum-seeking children in the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru may be dreading going to school or have stopped going altogether.

Children sent to Nauru by Australia for “offshore processing,” August 2016. Parents and children reported that students from families of refugees and asylum seekers are frequently bullied by Nauruan students.  © 2017 Private

Since 2012, Australia has forcibly transferred hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers to Nauru for "regional processing." Many have given up and returned home, but about 1200 men, women, and children remain in Nauru, including several hundred children.

A school in the regional processing center closed in mid-2015 and the children now attend local schools. Last July, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International interviewed children on Nauru, who said that the Nauruan students frequently bullied and harassed them.

Children said that other students had attacked them, thrown things at them, called them names, and sexually harassed them.

They also reported name-calling, being called "refugee" instead of by their names, or being labelled as terrorists. They said the teachers ignored them when they tried to report the abuse.

Girls are particularly at risk of physical and sexual violence.

In September 2015, a primary school girl told a caseworker from Save The Children that "Nauruan boys run up and touched me on the bottom and then run away." She told the caseworker that it happened "last week at school, all the time."

A mother of a girl attending Nauru College, a secondary school, told a caseworker that same month that her daughter felt unsafe and was refusing to go to school because the Nauruan boys "continue to touch her on her bottom and hug her."

Save the Children estimates that about 85 per cent of refugee and asylum-seeker children in Nauru don't attend school, in part due to bullying and harassment.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 50 per cent of primary school-age and 75 per cent of secondary school-age refugees are out of school.

School-based violence, including bullying and sexual violence, can undermine children's ability to learn and affect their physical and mental well-being. Bullying and violence may ultimately cause them to drop out.

Most of the children in Nauru have now been living there for nearly three years and do not know how much longer they will remain.

They face a raft of violations of their human rights that significantly affect their mental and physical well-being. No child should go through this.

All children have the legal right to access quality education.

Education is vital for a child's future; all the more so when their lives are in limbo.

Being able to go to school can also provide much-needed stability. School can provide children with a safe environment to learn and play.

As a party to the Refugee Convention, Nauru needs to provide refugee children with the same opportunities and treatment as Nauruan children.

The international Convention on the Rights of the Child says that a country needs to make sure that refugee children don't face discrimination, or physical or mental abuse.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which interprets the treaty, expressed deep concern at the "persistent discrimination against asylum-seeking and refugee children in all areas," including education, in its review of Nauru in 2016.

It said Nauru should ensure that asylum-seeking children have the same access to education as other children.

New Zealand can help make this happen. It is one of Nauru's major donors, including providing direct aid to improve the quality of primary and secondary education.

All children of school-age in Nauru should be benefiting from this.

Historically, New Zealand has been at the forefront of the fight for equality and human rights, and this is a situation close to home where it can make a difference and set an example for the region and the world.

New Zealand should press Nauru and Australia to fulfill their international obligations to refugee and asylum-seeking children. It should work with Nauru to address the systemic barriers keeping these children out of school.

With the US-Australia refugee resettlement arrangement in doubt, New Zealand could make a humanitarian stand and repeat its generous offer of resettling some refugees from Nauru.

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