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Increased Attacks on Education During War

New Report Highlights Need to Protect Schools

The destroyed playground of a kindergarten in the town of Kupiansk, Kharkivska region, Ukraine, May 26, 2023.   © 2023 Serbei Bobok/AFP via Getty Images

Attacks on education and military use of schools during armed conflict rose by an alarming 20 percent in 2022 and 2023 compared with the previous two years, according to a new report by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Schools and universities were bombed, burned, and used for military purposes, turning them into military targets. Teachers, academics, and students were injured and killed, abducted, and subjected to sexual violence.

PalestineUkraine, and the Democratic Republic of Congo experienced the most attacks during those two years, but GCPEA found reports of attacks on education or military use of schools in 79 countries. Attacks also increased in places like SudanSyria, and Nigeria. Last week’s new report from the United Nations secretary-general also documents increases in attacks on education in conflict situations.

Altogether, GCPEA documented some 6,000 reported attacks on education and cases of military use of schools and universities that harmed or killed more than 10,000 students and educators. In addition to students and teachers maimed or killed, children lost their education, causing profound individual and societal damage.

While such disturbing numbers reflect an increase in armed conflict globally, efforts to stop attacks are also gaining momentum. To date, 120 countries have signed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international political commitment to protect education during war. By signing, governments promise to investigate and prosecute attacks that violate the laws of war, help victims, try to continue safe education during wartime and restore access after attacks, and protect schools from military use.

The declaration is starting to work. It has increased stigma for attacking schools or using them for military purposes. Over a dozen countries have revised their military guidance to better protect schools. At least three countries in Africa have prosecuted people responsible for attacking schools. UN peacekeepers have nearly stopped deploying in schools.

UN officials have urged countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says it supports the declaration because it improves compliance with the laws of war.

Next week, the UN Security Council, which has called on countries to prevent and address attacks on education, will hold its annual debate on children and armed conflict in New York. This is an ideal time for more countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and commit to better protecting education during war.

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