First the bad news: the United Nations secretary-general’s annual report on children and armed conflict found a 35 percent increase in violence against children compared to the year before. But there’s good news too: incidents of armed groups – be they government forces or rebel groups – using schools for military purposes are down 14 percent from the previous year, with 188 schools affected.
That’s important for students who have safer schools to learn in, and raises hopes that new generations will be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to rebuild their countries after years of war.
Stopping fighters from turning schools into barracks and bunkers is gaining increasing attention since the development of the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration, an agreement through which countries commit to take common-sense steps to refrain from using schools for military purposes.
Globally, incidents of military use of schools – as verified by the UN – have fallen by almost a third since 2014. But in countries that have endorsed the declaration, there’s been an even greater drop in reported incidents – 50 percent down since 2014. This downward trend is particularly encouraging because it coincides with improved monitoring of the phenomenon, something that often – initially at least – makes it appear as if violations are increasing.
At the same time, in countries that have not endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, there’s been a 97 percent rise in the reported incidents of military use of schools since 2014.
Looking specifically at government forces of countries that have joined the declaration, their use of schools has fallen by almost 20 percent since 2015, with the steepest drop reported in Afghanistan.
By contrast, there’s been a 14 percent uptick in the use of schools by the forces of governments that have not endorsed it.
Disappointingly, there was an increase over the last year in reports of the military use of schools in three countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration: Nigeria, Sudan, and South Sudan. But both Nigeria and Sudan have recently taken steps to reassess their policies. South Sudan should start holding soldiers to account who don’t abide by existing military orders.
So far, 75 countries have joined the Safe Schools Declaration. The countries detailed in the UN report that have not endorsed – Burma, Colombia, India, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Pakistan, Philippines, Syria, and Thailand – should join next.