NEW YORK — The United Nations holds that all children have the right to an education and to a healthy life. But these rights are often threatened by outbreaks of conflict. When war occurs, children are left without the ability to go to school and without access to the health care that they need.
The U.N., in partnership with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, seeks to act against this all too common occurrence with the Act to Protect initiative.
Attacks against schools limit kids’ futures and attacks against hospitals deny them a healthy life. To directly address attacks against schools and hospitals, in 2011, the U.N. enacted resolution 1998. The policy called on the U.N. to identify and report all armed groups who target schools and hospitals and therefore deny children of their rights. In this way the international community can pinpoint the troublesome groups and act to protect children against them.
The resolution invites the U.N. to work with the communities affected to create a realistic and feasible plan to end the violence. The goal is to ensure that children maintain their access to health and education.
In order to strengthen the fight against violations of children’s rights, on May 21, Leila Zerrougui, a Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, presented a Guidance Note on Attacks against schools and hospitals. The guide is intended to help further the goals of resolution 1998. It provides information on how to better identify and report situations in which children’s health and education are threatened as a result of conflict. It equips those fighting for children with tactics and resources to stop militant groups from attacking hospitals and schools. Importantly, Zerrougui’s Guidance Note also stresses the need for an open dialogue with the violators of these rights in order to create change.
The Guidance Note on Attacks against schools and hospitals takes another step forward in its initiative to better train and assist those working to protect children around the world. It describes concretely how the U.N. and its partners can work with communities in conflict to communicate the importance of respecting the rights of children. Zerrougui outlines practical models to follow to achieve this goal.
Earlier this year, the Security Council restated its commitment to the issue of children’s health and education, and Zerrougui’s guidelines are a response for its re-commitment. The Security Council formed resolution 214, which strongly criticizes armed groups’ use of children in conflict along with “their re-recruitment, killing and maiming, rape and other sexual violence, abductions, attacks against schools.”
The U.N.’s Act to Protect initiative to defend children’s access to education and health care has a seemly increased importance in the wake of the kidnapping of about 300 female students in Nigeria. In April, Boko Haram, a group of militant extremists, kidnapped girls from their school, and the Nigerian government still has not been able to find them. The case of the missing girls has become an outrage worldwide. The Guidance Note on Attacks against schools and hospitals, then, takes even more precedence in the world forum, as people have been able to see the effects of when children’s rights are not protected.