Understanding the Issue
Today wars are waged no longer on battlefields but in villages. Civilians and children are no longer just collateral damage, but are targeted specifically as a tactic of war. An estimated 1 billion children currently live in conflict-affected areas, victim to some of the world’s most dangerous emergency situations.
Almost two decades ago, the United Nations commissioned Graça Machel, a Mozambican politician and humanitarian, to produce a report on the impact of armed conflict on children. Released in 1996, Machel’s ground-breaking report drew worldwide attention to the horrors and devastation faced by children of conflict. The Machel Report also put forward the first comprehensive international agenda for improving the protection and care of children of conflict.
“The destruction of educational infrastructures represents one of the greatest developmental setbacks for countries affected by conflict. Years of lost schooling and vocational skills will take equivalent years to replace and their absence imposes a greater vulnerability on the ability of societies to recover after war.
“The expert calls, therefore, for educational activity to be established as a priority component of all humanitarian assistance.”
Though education is now more widely recognized as a vital part of a comprehensive humanitarian strategy for conflict, post-conflict, emergency and refugee settings, it still too often falls through the cracks. Donors often overlook education in favor of more traditional, “life-saving” emergency sectors. When educational programming is included in humanitarian responses, it is not prioritized and significantly underfunded.
Making the Case for Education
An estimated 28 million children of conflict have no access to education. These children may have lost their home, witnessed the death of a parent or sibling, escaped recruitment as a child soldier, or serve as the primary caretaker for his or her family. They live in chaotic environments, often in constant fear, and have lost any sense of normalcy they once had in their lives. And yet, these children have not given up on building a more peaceful and prosperous life for themselves, their families and their nations. In conflict-affected communities around the world, parents and children alike often identify education as their primary immediate need.
Education can provide structure to begin rebuilding the social fabric of communities that has been torn apart by conflict. Education can provide a healing and safe place for children of conflict; it can provide a sense of much needed normalcy in a chaotic conflict environment, it can teach non-violence and understanding, and, most importantly, it can give young people who have been through the worst misfortune, the tools to build a better life for themselves and a better future for their nations.
Children of conflict are not isolated to solely one region of the world; this issue affects the lives of children across the globe, from Latin America and Africa to Asia and the Middle East. Eighteen countries have over one-half million out-of-school children of conflict living within their borders; millions more may be in school but are receiving low quality education.