Students play football at an engineering school, during lockdown at the university campus to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso April 1, 2020. Picture taken April 1, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]
The United Nations Security Council on Sep 11 urged warring parties in all conflicts especially in Africa to immediately stop attacking schools and teachers. The council also reaffirmed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for global ceasefires to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a presidential statement approved by all 15 council members, the UN expressed grave concern about the significant increase of attacks on schools in recent years and the resulting alarming number of children denied access to quality education.
According to Virginia Gamba, the UN envoy for children in conflict, attacking schools and teachers seems to be an emerging tactic of war, particularly in Africa's Sahel region, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse.
"Schools are targeted precisely because they are schools and even more if they cater to girls. In the last two years in Mali for example, teachers were threatened and killed, education facilities demolished, and learning materials burned, leading to the closure of over 1,260 schools, even before COVID-19," Gamba said.
"Similarly, the last 12 months in Burkina Faso have seen increasing attacks, including the burning of schools and kidnapping of teachers, forcing 2,500 schools to shut down and depriving hundreds of thousands of children from education," she added.
Furthermore, the UN envoy for children in conflict said that legislation adopted by some conflict-affected countries including the Central African Republic, the Philippines and Myanmar that protects schools from attack and criminalizes violations is still at the early stages of implementation and more needs to be done to speed delivery.
While welcoming the statement Henrietta Fore, head of UNICEF, said that protecting schools from attack and providing education in the midst of emergencies is more than a humanitarian need.
"Protecting schools from attack is a moral obligation to children and communities alike. However, it is clearly a moral obligation that we are failing to meet because millions of children are not getting an education," Fore said.
"COVID-19 has disrupted learning for almost one billion children worldwide. At the same time, we must remember those who have no education waiting for them, including many of the 75 million children worldwide who live in countries in conflict."