High-level Meeting: Delivering Quality Education in Humanitarian and Conflict-Affected Environments

New York, 24 September 2012

To have a single child out of school is a tragedy. To have 61 million defies comprehension. There are many reasons why so many children do not receive their educational birthright, but for me, the saddest of all is conflict.

Violations of education are heartbreaking. They are an obstacle to achieving a better future. As an advocate for education - and as a mother - this motivates me to make a difference on this issue globally.

And indifference to this issue is almost as bad as the problem itself. As long as the world community fails to take effective action, perpetrators will continue to victimise the innocent - and millions more children will lose hope.

Some progress has been made under the Millennium Development Goals; but attacks on education – the killing of teachers, destruction of schools or drafting of students as child soldiers – are on the increase.

For example, in the last few days the United Nations Children’s Fund has reported that amid the carnage and destruction in Syria, one in 10 schools are shut, with 2,000 damaged or destroyed, and more than 600 are being used as makeshift refugee centres.

While there are important protections for education under international humanitarian law in times of conflict and insecurity, they are not being implemented properly - and this has to change.

Last week, through Education Above All, we published a Handbook that will turn a spotlight on the issue and help lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and other advocates be more effective. It will be a deterrent to those who may commit these crimes in the future. It will amplify the voices of the victims, restoring their rights and giving them the chance to start again. I commend it to you as a powerful new instrument of justice.

This is of course only a start. While we should not fool ourselves as to the scale of the task, we do not have the right to ignore it. However, it is encouraging to see that the world is finally taking notice – you will know that the UN Secretary General will this week launch an important new initiative which has, at its core, the imperative of putting children back in school.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The mind of a child has only one opportunity to develop. If the education of a girl or boy is lost through conflict, we have not only deprived them of their birthright, we have denied their generation the chance of development or recovery. And we have robbed their entire society of the chance for a better future. That should not be acceptable to any one of us.

This is the charge we receive from humanity. We must protect children. We must protect education. And by acting, we will protect our common future.

Thank you.