I was 8 years old when I learned how war can affect education. Along with thousands of other children caught in the tumult of the Bosnian war, from 1992 to 1995, I had no safe school to go to.
Instead of being safe places for children to learn, play, and make friends, schools during the war were often places of summary execution and unlawful detention of civilians, where women, men, and children were subjected to torture, inhuman treatment, and sexual violence. School buildings often came under deliberate fire, were burned down, taken by the warring forces, and converted into barracks or weapons storage, or used as shelters for displaced families. Women and girls were held as sex slaves in a high school in my hometown, Foča.
On the days we did go to school, it was only for a few hours, in the home of a teacher or in the basement of a building, or in classrooms around an interior courtyard – hoping there was less chance in the interior of being killed by a mortar or artillery fire.
However, the harm didn’t stop with the end of the war. Many schools had been damaged, and others destroyed. It took years to rebuild them. And to rebuild our lives.
On May 10, Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the international Safe Schools Declaration, to ensure that this never happens again. The government pledged to restore access to education when schools are bombed, burned, and destroyed during armed conflict. It promised to make it less likely that students, teachers, and schools will be attacked in the first place by investigating and prosecuting war crimes involving schools and minimizing the use of schools for military purposes so that they do not become targets for attack.
Bosnia has now joined 86 other countries in signing the Safe Schools Declaration. All member states of the former Yugoslavia have joined, except for Croatia.
Government representatives from around the world will gather in Mallorca, Spain on May 28 for an international conference to discuss how students, teachers, schools, and universities can be better protected during war. The conference is an opportunity for governments that haven’t yet joined, including Croatia, to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, and firmly stand together to prevent children from having to risk their lives to get books and an education.