UN envoy Gordon Brown makes ‘plea from the heart’ to end child rights abuses, promote safe schools

Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, briefs the press. UN Photo/Mark Garten

18 March 2015 – The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, called today for “fundamental changes” to strengthen the global commitment to defending the rights of schoolgirls and boys, as he said that 2015 should be the year to end violations of children’s rights.

“Today I am making a plea from the heart to the conscience of the world that we now wake up to the suffering faced by millions of children,” Mr. Brown said during a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York.

“It is time for us to end the shameful breaches of international law that violate the rights of millions of children by calling a halt to the militarisation of schools, stopping the now-growing abduction of school pupils as weapons of war and insisting – even in conflict zones – that properly resourced ‘safe schools’ enable children to enjoy their education in peace.”

He urged the international community to invest in making schools safer in the world’s most troubled and dangerous areas by agreeing the terms of a new Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies; to commit $163 million at an upcoming conference on educating Syrian refugees in Lebanon; and by signing the international Safe Schools Declaration to protect schools from military use and attacks by giving the same protection as is afforded to the Red Cross.

Mr. Brown also announced a project in Pakistan under the Safe Schools Initiative, which was already operating in Nigeria, and he looked forward to extending the initiative to South Sudan, Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“I can announce today a 1,000 school pilot in Pakistan in a partnership between the Government, UNICEF, and the Global Business Coalition for Education, spearheaded by a pro-bono technology contribution from Predictify.me, a US-based data sciences and predictive analytics firm,” he said. “The partnership will deliver state-of-the-art technology and simulation software to assess the levels of risk preparedness of schools and generate recommendations for school and community safety plans.”

Mr. Brown explained that the project, which is supported by Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif, follows the successful roll-out of a similar scheme in Nigeria, where 30,000 children displaced by Boko Haram were in double-shift schools and other children in at-risk areas were benefiting from school relocation and increased security measures.

“In Nigeria, the Safe Schools Initiative, established in response to the kidnapping of the Chibok schools nearly one year ago, has reached $30 million,” said Mr. Brown, adding that the most recent contribution had come from the United States Government’s Let Girls Learn initiative. “I am calling for the release of the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria before the one-year anniversary on April 14th.”

He also called for the release of 89 schoolboys who were sitting for exams in Wau Shilluk, South Sudan, adding that it was “sad” that the kidnappers were offering to return the children to sit their exams but then keep them in captivity to serve as child soldiers. The schoolboys were among 12,000 children abducted to serve as child soldiers and the practice had to be stopped.

“I am supporting the education campaigns of UNICEF to help 400,000 South Sudanese children go back to safe schools,” he said.

Mr. Brown said he had seen for himself how children had become “the silent, tragic victims of conflict” on a recent visit to South Sudan, as well as others to Nigeria, Pakistan and the DRC. This was illustrated by statistics such as the more than 10,000 attacks on schools in the last five years – the highest level recorded in the past 40 years – and the 28 million boys and girls who are not in school in areas of conflict or emergency worldwide.

“I look forward to this year’s Security Council report on children in armed conflict,” he said, noting that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict had given special attention to violations in South Sudan, and urging support for the new fund to prevent children from “falling through the cracks” by providing education in emergencies.

“We can no longer wait,” he said. “It is time for decisive action.”

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