By Ese Awhotu
With continued widespread violations of children’s rights taking place throughout Nigeria, especially in the North where the insurgents are currently recruiting them to carry out terrorists act by force, the United Nations Children and Education Fund (UNICEF) has released a new report indicating that schools and children remain the target of terrorist’s gangs, including the Boko Haram globally.
According to the report, schools have been targeted and millions of displaced children have been forced from their homes and studies.
The report noted that, as students around the world return to school, a record number of conflicts and crises are depriving millions of children of their right to education.
Almost 30 million children are out of school in emergency or conflict affected countries, approximately half of all children out of school worldwide. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, primary and secondary schools will remain closed until at least the end of the year because of the Ebola outbreak, affecting over 3.5 million children.
In Nigeria over 200 school girls otherwise called Chibok girls are still in Boko Haram (Islamic sect) captivity. The Federal Government recently shut down all secondary schools due to Ebola threats but has been cajoled to reopening the schools which will resume in September 22.
“For children living through emergencies, education is a life line,” said Josephine Bourne, UNICEF’s head of global education programmes. “Being able to continue learning provides a sense of normalcy that can help children overcome trauma, and is an investment not only in individual children, but in the future strength of their societies. Without the knowledge, skills, and support education provides, how can these children and young people rebuild their lives and their communities?”
The report said in conflict affected countries: A third of schools recently surveyed in the Central African Republic had either been struck by bullets, set on fire, looted or occupied by armed groups.
Over 100 schools were used as shelters for more than 300,000 people displaced during the most recent conflict in Gaza require rehabilitation.
Students and teachers have been killed and abducted in northeast Nigeria, including more than 200 school girls who have yet to be released.
Nearly 3 million children, half the Syrian school population, are now not attending classes on a regular basis.
Approximately 290 schools have been destroyed or damaged in recent fighting in Ukraine.
To maintain opportunities for children to learn, even amidst crisis, UNICEF supports emergency education efforts ranging from temporary classrooms and alternative learning spaces for internally displaced and refugee children, to the provision of millions of notebooks, backpacks and other vital school supplies. UNICEF also supports self-directed studies for children who can’t leave their homes and will help provide educational radio programmes for children in Ebola-affected countries.
Despite the importance of emergency education programmes they are severely underfunded.
“Last year global emergency education programmes supported by UNICEF only received 2 per cent of all funds raised for humanitarian action, resulting in a US $247 million funding shortfall. Education is an essential part of humanitarian response, requiring support and investment from the very onset of a crisis,” Bourne said. “A record number of emergencies mean that more children than ever are at risk and we urgently need the resources to reach these children.”
UNICEF report noted that violence against children is universal, so prevalent and deeply ingrained in societies it is often unseen and accepted as the norm, according to new, unprecedented data presented by the United Nations, weekend.
The new UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report “Hidden in plain sight: A statistical analysis of violence against children draws on data from 190 countries in order to shed light on a largely undocumented issue.
The report found that about two thirds of children worldwide between ages 2 and 14 (almost 1 billion) are subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers on a regular basis. And yet, only about one third of adults worldwide believe that physical punishment of some kind is necessary to properly raise or educate a child.
Susan Bissell, the Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF said in interview that the data essentials show that “if there is one common aspect of human society right now, it is the fact that tremendous violence is committed against children.”
“It is important that we don’t simply go away with the message that violence is everywhere, we live in a horrific world; but in fact to say, there are tried, true, measured, evaluated solutions,” she said.
While the data focuses on physical, emotional and sexual violence in settings children should feel safe; their communities, schools and homes, there is a fundamental limitation to document violence against children.
The data includes new figures on violent discipline, the most common form of violence against children as well as violence against girls – widespread rates of physical and sexual abuse. It also takes a look at homicide rates – a leading cause of death among adolescent boys.
“In fact, one fifth of homicide victims globally are children and adolescents under the age of 20, resulting in about 95,000 deaths in 2012, and slightly more than 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide are regularly bullied in school.
“Violence begets violence. We know a child experiencing abuse is more likely to see violence as normal, even acceptable and more likely to perpetuate violence against his or her own children in the future,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.
Perceptions on violence including shocking figures on children’s views and reluctance to report abuse was also reported. Hence, changing attitudes with respect to violence against children starts with knowledge. The report is an opportunity to go into the public domain, and say “now you have to do something,” noted Ms. Bissell.
“Social change, attitudes towards boys and girls and then gender attitudes take a long time to change, but we can see more rapid change than ever before, not least with the advent of social media and the use of more innovative and creative approaches,” Ms. Bissell said.
The effects of violence against children can last a lifetime, as exposure to violence can alter a child’s brain development damaging their physical, mental and emotional health. Violence is also passed down from one generation to the next. But violence is not inevitable; it can be prevented.
“Violence against children occurs every day, everywhere [but] it is not inevitable. It is preventable if we refuse to let violence remain in the shadows,” Mr. Lake said. “The evidence in this report compels us to act for the sake of those individual children and the future strength of societies around the world.”
UNICEF points to six strategies to enable society as a whole, from families to Governments, to prevent and reduce violence against children. They include supporting parents and equipping children with life skills; changing attitudes; strengthening judicial, criminal and social systems and services; and generating evidence and awareness about violence and its human and socio-economic costs, in order to change attitudes and norms
As part of concerted efforts to address the issue of violence against children, The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Rugby Board (IRB) have launched an ambitious push to raise funds to provide meals to school children in developing countries.
According to a WFP statement, the focus of the drive in the run-up to the world’s third-largest sporting event, which kicks off on September 18, 2015 will be a “Million Meal Challenge”. The goal is to raise funds for WFP to provide meals to school children in developing countries.