Statement from the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education

A multi-million dollar global initiative aimed at helping protect millions of schoolgirls from violence will be launched this week following a devastating new UN report. 

The next phase of a Safe Schools plan will be unveiled in the wake of the Human Rights report, which claims schoolgirls and boys have been under attack in 70 countries over the past five years.

The study, from the Human Rights Commissioner of the United Nations, challenges us to take urgent action, showing that the previously-reported terrorist violence against schools that have gained worldwide attention – the Peshawar attack which killed 139 boys in December and the Boko Haram assault in Nigeria when 220 girls were abducted  – are the tip of the iceberg.

Later this week, a blueprint for safe schools in Pakistan, highlighting community and school based best practice, will be produced by A World at School and launched by UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown following conversations with Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan.  The guidelines will complement and support the existing measures undertaken by the Pakistani government, which were quickly rolled out following the Peshawar attack to improve school safety. 

The UN Special Envoy launched the Nigerian Safe Schools Initiative following the kidnapping of the girls of Chibok in May, 2014. These initiatives are part of an effort to create a Safe Schools movement from Nigeria and Pakistan to DRC, Afghanistan and beyond where education for girls and boys must be safeguarded and protected. The Pakistan blueprint comes just after the Geneva-issued report has discovered that schoolgirls and boys have faced nearly 10,000 individual attacks on their educational institutions in the past five years including murder, arson, kidnapping and intimidation against girls, simply for wanting to go to school.

In 2012 alone there were, 3,600 separate attacks against educational institutions, teacher and schools. This past week, schools in Afghanistan were under attack as gunmen in Haska Mina first went to a girls’ school, tied up watchmen and set off bombs in the school’s office. In a second attack at a nearby boys’ school the gunmen launched an armed assault on a classroom. Numbers of casualties have not been confirmed.

Starting in 2010, when girls were abducted form their school buy the Somali extremist group Al-Shabaab, the Human Rights Commissioner has documented how children, fearful of violence in their school precincts, are refusing to go to school. And parents, worried that their children are no longer safe in school, are failing to send them there.

And then, says the Human Rights Commissioner, out-of-school girls fall prey to child labour, early child marriage and child trafficking. Out of school they are far more vulnerable to being exploited, sold into slavery or abused.

Safe Schools interventions help educational institutions stand up to terrorist violence and make schools more secure by providing fences and boundary walls, creating safety plans, providing communications links with police and security forces, and implementing community-based initiatives to promote safe schools.

It is by taking measures such as these that we will reassure parents and pupils that everything is being done to counter extremist threats.
The draft Lucens Guidelines have been drawn up with the aim of better protecting schools and universities from use by armed groups for military purposes, and to minimize the negative impact that armed conflict has on students’ safety and education. These guidelines put forth by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack and supported by many countries – and championed by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education – will result in a “Safe Schools Declaration” later this year with concrete guidance to states and non-state armed groups for the planning and execution of military operations to protect schools and education from attack. 

In Nigeria, the Safe Schools Initiative, launched by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education with A World at School, the Global Business Coalition for Education and the Nigerian government, following the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls, has leveraged $30 million from business, the Nigerian government and international donors resulting in a government initiative and a United Nations multi-donor trust fund for Safe Schools.  In the first phase of activities, Safe Schools interventions are now in place in many schools and 2,400 of the most at-risk students from three states hit hardest by Boko Haram’s terrorist activities have been enrolled in safer schools.

Between 2011 and 2012 there were 105 attacks on schools in Pakistan. In the wake of the tragic massacre that took the lives of over 130 innocent children and more than 10 teachers in Peshawar, the Pakistani Government has already begun to direct educational institutions to take additional security measures.  The guidelines, which serve as the basis for a comprehensive framework, highlight 15 best practices to complement these efforts.


Photo Credit: Vicki Francis/DFID