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Safe Schools Declaration Protects Education for Millions

Africa Advances Wartime Protections for Students, Teachers, and Schools

Girls everywhere are at a heightened risk of not returning to school following closures. This file photo shows a sign reading "Education is a right for a girl child" at a refugee settlement of people from South Sudan in Imvepi, Uganda, 27 June 2017. © Gioia Forster/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Six years ago today, the Safe Schools Declaration was opened for countries to endorse. The intergovernmental commitment, established under the leadership of Norway and Argentina, aims to strengthen the prevention of, and response to, attacks on students, teachers, schools, and universities during times of war. Its anniversary is an opportunity to reflect upon progress made this past year in implementing its protections.

Much of the progress this year came from Africa, where 30 countries have endorsed the declaration since it opened on May 29, 2015.

In June 2020, the Central African Republic became the first country in Africa to make military occupation and use of schools a criminal offense on the same basis as an attack on a school.

In September, Niger led the United Nations Security Council to hold its first open debate solely on protecting education from attack. The debate followed the first-ever International Day to Protect Education from Attack, established by a unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly.

This January, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child issued guidance on the protection of children during armed conflict, calling on countries to “either ban the use of schools for military purposes, or, at a minimum, enact concrete measures to deter the use of schools for military purposes.”

Also in January, the African Union began requiring countries contributing troops to its peace operations to “ensure that schools are not attacked and used for military purposes.”

Africa appears ready to continue on this positive path, as Nigeria is set to host the Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration this October.

Since May 2020, Ghana, Malawi, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Mexico have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, bringing the number of supporting countries to 108.

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the right to education for millions of children. This anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration is a moment to celebrate progress made in making schools safer over the past year, and to recommit to expanding these efforts in the years to come.

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