Education is a right, even in war
06 April 2020
“I want to tell you about the short and tortured childhoods in my country, and about a generation of students who are swept from their school desks to their coffins,” says Yemeni teacher and trade unionist Yahya Al Yanaie. On the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Al Yanaie writes about the right to education in wartime, and the “lost children of Yemen and the struggle to save them”. More than 100,000 people, including 12,000 civilians, have been killed in Yemen since war broke out five years ago, according to the highly regarded Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Millions of children live in this country. They are the children the international community has failed to protect. One million of
them have been deprived of education, 1300 have been shot dead, 600 have been killed by cholera, 5000 have been abused, and 1.5 million have been displaced and become homeless. Two million children still live in conflict-ridden areas and suffer from malnutrition, poverty and disease.
Yet the protection of children during wartime is enshrined in international humanitarian law. The international community must intensify its efforts to create safe learning spaces in Yemen, in order to live up to the standards it has set for itself. Education cannot be postponed indefinitely by conflict. The new generation needs the tools that education provides so they can rebuild their communities and country.
Despite the years of disappointment, we, as an education union, have declared our full commitment to supporting international conventions on children’s rights, as a national and humanitarian duty. We have asked teachers to go to schools even though they are not being paid, as a way to protect this generation from loss, illiteracy and the point of no return. Lack of education, despair and hopelessness create the ideal conditions for extremism among children.
One of the disastrous consequences of the ongoing conflict is the generation of children without access to education; it raises the probability that they will
be recruited to fight. This displaced generation of children holding rifles will be the tragedy of Yemen in the future.
Education in Yemen has been used as a means to exert pressure by the warring factions. The continuous pursuit to politicise education poses both cultural and intellectual risks for students. The attempts to re-adjust the school curricula to serve a sectarian agenda will change the social fabric, deepen the country’s cultural and intellectual divide, and produce a generation of children trapped by sectarian and regional ideas. It will also create a culture of violence and hatred.
BUILDING PEACE AND STABILITY
Therefore, the international community must speak out against the politicisation of education. It must work to bring the conflicting parties together to agree that education must continue being civic and national in character, with a curriculum that builds peace and stability for future generations in Yemen.
At the same time, the protection and reconstruction of education in Yemen can only be achieved through a global and regional support system. Education has become a tool for sectarian mobilisation and an affluent tributary to war because thousands of children and boys in public education have been mobilised and recruited to fight. These children have exchanged libraries and classrooms for battlefronts. As things stand, the output of education is no longer concerned with life, work and peace; it is more about violence and hatred.
We, as the Yemeni Teachers Union and as members of Education International, are committed to defending the right to education in conflict zones and consider education as an essential building block in the recovery of Yemen. We have urged the international community to support this right as an integral component of humanitarian assistance. We have called on the parties to the war in Yemen to abide by international law and respect civilians and civilian institutions and not attack teachers, students and educational facilities. We have launched initiatives with a range of international and national organisations and local partners that aim to reach the children who are the most affected by the war in Yemen.
As an institution, we seek to take concrete action to prevent attacks against education in Yemen, and to respond more effectively to such attacks, should they occur. We also seek to ensure access to education for all children, not only for the sake of education itself but for the full protection that safe schools can provide for children. Safe schools can protect them from recruitment and bring families and communities together. Going to school can help children withstand the daily stress of being exposed to armed violence.
We are making an international appeal for stronger legal protection with greater institutional cooperation, in the form of a network of solidarity among institutions around the world. Our goal is to deter the targeting of education and its institutions in Yemen.
We hope this humanitarian appeal will motivate governments to support the right of the child to education during crises and conflicts, as an integral component of humanitarian assistance.
Yahya Al Yanaie is the head of communications of the Yemeni Teachers Syndicate. This is an edited extract of an article first published at worldsofeducation.org