United Nations, General Assembly, 67th session, Third Committee, item 65 of the agenda, statement by the ICRC, New York, 19 October 2012.
Armed conflict tears families and entire communities apart. And it makes those at risk even more vulnerable - especially children. Children suffer the direct consequences of armed conflict and other situations of violence. They may be recruited into armed forces or armed groups, or held in detention. They may be maimed, raped or killed. Armed violence affects children in other ways as well: by displacing them, by making them endure the loss of relatives, or separation from them, and by putting them through the traumatic experience of witnessing or participating in acts of violence.
The ICRC carries out a number of activities to protect and assist children affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. These activities concentrate on addressing the needs of children who are unaccompanied or separated from relatives or other carers, who have been recruited into armed forces or armed groups, or who are in detention. As a consequence of armed violence, each of these groups of children is likely to have its access to schools or other educational facilities obstructed to a significant extent. Today, we have chosen to draw attention to this issue: access to education for children during armed conflict.
According to a UNESCO report on armed conflict and education, in 2011, of all the children in the world not attending school, over 40% lived in conflict-affected countries. Violations of international humanitarian law committed during armed conflict give rise to a state of general insecurity, which has a direct effect on children's access to education. When schools are attacked which is unlawful they are often damaged; sometimes they are destroyed. The use of schools for military purposes during armed conflict also unlawful - increases the risk of their being attacked. It is to schools that armed forces or armed groups sometimes go, in order to recruit children and use them to kill; and to rape them or subject them to other forms of sexual violence. As a result, parents may keep their children out of school and teachers may stop coming to work.
Armed conflict or other situations of violence can lead to the closure of schools. When that happens, more young people will be denied the opportunity to develop essential skills, and subsequently become more vulnerable to recruitment in armed forces or armed groups. The ICRC is especially concerned about the situation of displaced children, who may have to go without education for extended periods of time.
It should be noted that when children are arrested and detained, there is seldom any provision for their education.
The ICRC thus urges belligerents to respect humanitarian law particularly its provisions related to education. At the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent last year, States, together with components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted a four-year action plan for implementing humanitarian law. States reaffirmed the rules designed to protect education during armed conflict, and many pledged to adopt concrete measures to ensure respect for provisions regarding the protection of children during armed conflict.
The ICRC calls on parties to armed conflict to respect children and teachers, as well as educational facilities, and to take all feasible measures to prevent the use of such civilian buildings for purposes that could cause them to lose their protection under humanitarian law. Children should be detained only as a last resort and for the shortest period necessary. When children are detained, special measures must be taken to protect them, regardless of the reason for their internment or detention, and they must be given access to education. Children who have been unlawfully recruited by armed forces or armed groups, and who are accused of having committed domestic or international crimes during armed conflict, should be regarded primarily as victims, not as alleged perpetrators, and treated as such.
The ICRC undertakes numerous activities to support the provision of education, such as working to ensure that children have safe access to school - for example, by setting up safe spaces for educational purposes, or by rebuilding schools damaged in armed conflict. The ICRC supports the efforts of local authorities to ensure that displaced children have access to education, whether in camps or host communities. The ICRC also reminds the relevant authorities of their obligation to ensure that all detained children receive an education. In addition, it works with children and their families and with National Societies to strengthen community-based mechanisms for protecting children from recruitment into hostilities, and to restore family links disrupted by armed conflict. The ICRC also provides psychosocial support for children formerly associated with armed groups.
Armed conflict imposes immense suffering on children. Much of this can be prevented by increasing knowledge of and respect for the rules of humanitarian law. The ICRC urges all parties to armed conflict to remain committed to ensuring respect and protection for children in all circumstances.