* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Today in Brussels at the Education in Emergencies forum UN Special Enboy for Global Education Gordon Brown said:
“With 500,000 children under siege in Syria and Iraq, an International Criminal Court investigation into the abuse of children in Libya, evidence mounting of a war crime committed in October against schoolchildren in Idlib, Syria and a total of 30million children displaced, 2016 will go down as the year in post-war history when it has never been more unsafe to be a child.
“No child in Syria’s conflict zones is safe, not even in hospitals or the recently-opened underground classrooms. The evidence grows of war crimes against girls trafficked out of Libya. In Nigeria, millions of girls live in fear of Boko Haram and will not go to school. With child marriage, child trafficking and child labour on the rise – and with thousands of girls having vanished on the routes from the Middle East to Europe – it can now be more dangerous to be a girl or a boy out on the streets than a soldier in the trenches.
“International law is being routinely and casually violated with schools – which should be safe havens - becoming theatres of war and children, who should be in those safe havens, forced into the front-line of so many of the world’s civil conflicts. Indeed, so common is the use of children as guerilla fighters in South Sudan that last month we had the warped offer by one rebel commander to allow children time off from their army militias to sit school exams.
“This is no world for a child. Now that the International Criminal Court has, to its credit, been persuaded to announce just this month that it will take seriously and give priority to crimes against children as war crimes and crimes against humanity, 2017 must be the year when we end impunity for the systematic violation of children’s rights.
“I can think of nearly 10 countries – from Syria, Iraq and Libya to South Sudan, Nigeria and Afghanistan – where atrocity crimes have been committed against children that have so far gone unpunished. I urge the Security Council to begin by referring the bombing of the school in Idlib to the International Criminal Court.
“But we should not stop there. In the 1960s the world fought for black civil rights; in the 1970s and 1980s over apartheid; and in the 1990s and beyond over the rights of the disabled, women and LGBT persons.
“Now it is time to put centre stage the civil rights struggle for children – for an end to the casual and routine violation of children’s rights; for the right of boys and girls not to be in the front line of war; for schools not be used as instruments of war; for children’s rights to education to be upheld at all times, irrespective of borders, and for us to end exploitation in child labour, child marriage and child trafficking, in favour of education.
“To that end, I propose a New Deal for the world’s children for 2017.
“The United Nations, the World Bank and all other international institutions should sign up to a new determination in which:
a.All schools are protected as safe places.
b.Children are not used as weapons of war and in particular not as child militia.
c.Every refugee child’s right to education is upheld.
d.Every war crime and crime against humanity committed against children should be fully investigated.
“The New Deal for Children must answer why for the most vulnerable we do the least and why instead of guaranteed help all we do is pass the begging bowl around at times of crisis. Recent humanitarian appeals have given just two per cent of funding to education in emergencies and when the latest estimate is that the average time refugees are exiled from their country is 10 years, this means some children will spend all of their childhood years without ever entering a classroom.
“That is no childhood at all.
“It is surely time to urgently find a funding formula that will allow guaranteed support for refugees - and a chance for them not simply to have food and shelter but schooling too.
“This is all the more necessary because recent appeals for funds for education in emergencies have yielded so little return – less than 10 per cent in Nigeria, DRC and Iraq and less than one per cent in Burkina Faso, Chad and the Central African Republic.
“The answer must now lie in World Bank President Jim Kim’s laudable ambition to make his organisation the bank for the international system and I believe we can secure a new deal between the UN agencies and the World Bank to release the funds necessary for the safety and education of 30million displaced children and 10million refugee boys and girls.
“Syria brings home to us what we need to do in 2017 to take children out of the frontline. And few places are more dangerous for children right now.
“And I believe evidence is now mounting of a war crime perpetrated by Russian-Syrian operations when a school in Idlib was bombed and 30 pupils and teachers were killed on October 26th.
“New video imagery offers us additional verification that damage to the school complex in the village of Haas was caused by airstrikes.
“We must call them to account – and ask them to explain a Human Rights Watch report based on interviews and photographs that places Russian and Syrian bombers above the site on the day.
“As Tony Lake of UNICEF said, if this is deliberate, a war crime has been committed. It cannot go unpunished and its perpetrators cannot escape with impunity. The very inquiry the Russians offered should now be put not only to the UN General Assembly but also to the Security Council – to enable independent investigators to be appointed and a case brought before the ICC.
“Schools should be what they always were intended to be: safe havens where children can learn. Children should never again be in the front line.”