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Numerous conventions and principles on the rights of the child, including the United Nations Convention of 1989 on the Rights of the Child, the United Nation`s Guidelines and Principles on Children Associated with Armed Groups or Armed Forces adopted in February 2007 (UNICEF), and resolution 64/290 of 2010 on the right of children to education in emergency situations, have been passed to protect children and safeguard their interests (General Assembly of the United Nations, 2010). Similarly, the general comment number 14 of 2013 of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child states that the best interest of a child should always be given the primary consideration (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2013, p. 4).
Despite the fact that plight of refugee children has caught the attention of the international community, many refugee children still lack access to basic education. The projections by the United Nations indicate that approximately one billion children live in areas affected by conflicts, with nearly 250 million being below 5 years of age and being deprived of their basic right to education, with about 65 million children between the ages of 3 and 15 being severely affected by prolonged crises and emergencies, which puts at risk their access to education, and with nearly 37 million children being forced out of primary or lower secondary schools due to crises in their countries. Furthermore, statistics show that about 50% of the globe`s out-of-school children are in areas prone to conflict.
Child refugees number about 10 million globally, and an estimated 19 million children across the world have been displaced in their home countries as a result of conflict (Nikolau, 2016). Access to education is an essential human right and the right of each child and a prerequisite for him or her to enjoy all other economic, social, political, and cultural rights. Evidently, education lays the foundation for responsible citizenship, contributes to social, political, economic, and gender equality, empowers the girl child and women professionally, socially, and culturally, and helps to reduce violence against girls and women. Furthermore, education plays a significant role in achieving integration in the society and improving the living standards among children with disabilities and those with special education needs, who see their already dwindling prospects reduce even further in conflict-affected regions (Dryden-Peterson, 2011, p. 42).
Although progress has been made in the developing countries concerning primary education, which is a fundamental right that all governments have pledged to provide under the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, this opportunity remains unachievable for millions of refugee children. More than 50% of the 65.3 million people who have been forcefully displaced, among whom 21.3 million are refugees, are below 18 years of age (UNHCR, 2016).
The continuing persecution and conflict force an average of 34,000 people per day to leave their homeland and seek refuge elsewhere, either within their home countries or in foreign states (UNHCR, 2016). Due to the large number of refugees entering their boarders, the developing economies continue to host about 86% of the world`s refugee and displaced population regardless of the lack of sufficient financial resources and infrastructure required, including access to food, water, shelter, and clothing (UNHCR, 2016).
In contexts where children are forced to flee from conflict, education is often regarded as a luxury and not considered as a priority to children displaced by conflict. Therefore, delegates from across the globe are being called to Geneva, Switzerland, to determine what should be done to ensure that refugee children have access to basic education. Leaders from both the developed and developing world have already agreed that more should be done to safeguard the interests of refugee children. In this regard, a number of questions will need to be answered during the conference including the role of industrialized economies in supporting the needs of refugee children and how the UNHCR, UN, and its humanitarian agencies can progressively incorporate education and protection of refugee children in their emergency response cycles. Delegates may also choose to increase their proportion of humanitarian funding dedicated to education in conflict regions; however, this should not be done at the expense of the refugees` other primary needs.
Questions to Be Considered
- Which countries or agencies should be responsible for providing educational expertise in refugee education?
- How can developed countries assist host nations to ensure adequate funding and staffing for schools and hence access to quality education by all refugee children?
- Should developed countries and developing nations host a proportionate share of refugee population to avoid overburdening developing nations?
4. Should the same basic education curriculum in host countries be used for educating refugee children?
- Given that the host countries often fail to monitor the quality and safety of the education of the refugee children, which agency or organization should be charged with this responsibility?
Dryden-Peterson, S. (2011). Refugee education: A global review. UNHCR. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/4fe317589.pdf
General Assembly of the United Nations. (2010). Resolutions. Un.org. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/ga/64/resolutions.shtml.
Nikolau, L.(2016). Getting 5 million refugee children into school must be ‘highest priority,’ advocates say. Humanosphere. Retrieved from http://www.humanosphere.org/basics/2016/09/getting-5-million-refugee-children-into-school-must-be-highest-priority-advocates-say/
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2013, July 4). Convention on the Rights of the Child. CRC /C/ISR/CO/2-4. Retrieved from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/co/CRC-C-ISR-CO-2-4.pdf.
UNHCR. (2016). Figures at a glance. UNHCR. Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
UNICEF. (2007, February). The Paris Principles: Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. Retrieved from www.un.org/children/conflict/_documents/parisprinciples/ParisPrinciples_EN.pdf .