Children’s rights must be a priority of humanitarian action in Africa

What about the rights of children who are deprived of education or are displaced by terrorism and violent extremism?

Level 3 students at Sandogo B Public School, District 7 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in November 2017. CREDIT: GPE/Kelley Lynch

This post is the fifth in a blog series published in 2019 in the context of collaboration between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Many countries in Africa have pledged to guarantee equitable, inclusive, and quality education for all with a view to achieving universal primary education. To this end, formal and non-formal initiatives have been launched to ensure that no one is left out of the education system.

Africa’s education challenges

However, despite the great effort made in recent decades to achieve universal education, the challenge remains significant. Data published by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) in February 2018 indicate that approximately 260 million children, adolescents, and young people around the world (one in five) are not enrolled in school—a figure that has hardly budged in the past five years. Of all the regions, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of exclusion from education.

These challenges are now being compounded by insecurity. Many countries in Africa and around the world are currently facing terrorist attacks. A heavy toll is being exacted on the education system, which seems to be a prime target of terrorists.

According to UNICEF, in 2019, continued and growing insecurity in the Sahel region has forced nearly 2,000 schools in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger to close or become non-operational. Threats against education personnel, attacks on education facilities, and the use of schools for military purposes have disrupted the education of over 400,000 children across the three countries and left more than 10,000 teachers unable to work or displaced by the violence.

This situation has prompted the large-scale movement of persons in the affected communities (internally displaced persons) and of refugees in other neighboring countries. Children also get swept up in this movement, which represents a grave violation of their rights.

This situation poses a threefold challenge:

  • Parents, overtaken by events and fleeing the attacks, are now unable to assume their responsibilities.
  • The public authorities, more concerned with the war against terrorism, are giving priority to the defense and security sectors while at the same time relegating such sectors as education to second place.
  • The humanitarian actors who seem to be interested in the fate of these children appear to be overwhelmed and are increasingly a prime target of terrorist groups, a situation that limits their sphere of activity.

Children who are displaced or are victims of terrorism are very vulnerable and are much more exposed to terrible forms of exploitation, in particular sexual abuse and forced recruitment by armed groups.

As a result, many of tomorrow’s leaders—future development actors—are adrift, a situation that should be of concern to us all.

The Role of ADEA’s Inter-Country Quality Node on Non-Formal Education

To contribute to the effort to educate these children who are deprived of education or are displaced by terrorism, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), through its new Inter-Country Quality Node on Non-Formal Education (ICQN-NFE) launched on April 25, 2019 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, intends to conduct activities aimed at inclusive and holistic education so as to accommodate all these children who are not enrolled in school or are displaced and those who have been left out of the Education for All initiative.

To this end, the ICQN-NFE will launch a series of discussions that can assist policymakers with the provision of care to children who are not enrolled in school or are displaced by terrorism.

The strategic plan of the ICQN-NFE will allow it to serve as an intergovernmental forum for policy dialogue and collaborative work while at the same time focusing on peer learning and sharing knowledge and best practices related to non-formal education in Africa among the Ministries of Education, the other ministries, and the main stakeholders.

The ICQN-NFE will therefore draw on the findings of a number of studies conducted by the former Working Group on Non-Formal Education (WGNFE) of ADEA—now the ICQN-NFE—obtained through field work over a ten-year period, with the aim of strengthening its network of partners and building on successful experiences so as to share these with ICQN-NFE member countries, namely:

  1. The synergies to be considered among formal education subsystems and different types of learning in the Koranic centers in Guinea, Mali, and Niger;
  2. The mapping of centers and other Koranic education facilities in three countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal.

These studies have facilitated the following activities in the countries involved:

  • A comprehensive analysis of the two subsystems in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses;
  • An assessment of their strengths that can be used to create synergies based on a holistic vision of education;
  • A presentation of specific proposals aimed at expanding access to education by disadvantaged groups as well as greater equity and the provision of quality education that takes into account the socioeconomic situations of learners.
Representatives of developing country partners of GPE sharing experiences in Cotonou, Benin in November 2018. CREDIT: GPE/Chantal Rigaud

An appeal to the stakeholders aimed at education for all

The different governments in Africa, the development assistance partners, the humanitarian community, civil society, socially responsible enterprises, the decentralized regional and local authorities, and the media are now each being called upon to play a major role in the education of children who are not enrolled in school or are displaced by terrorism and violent extremism.

Emphasis will have to be placed on education alternatives so as to allow large numbers of children either to make up lost ground or to have an opportunity to begin some form of training.

In most countries affected by this violence, which curtails exercise of the fundamental rights of children, the time has come to ask the question: why is it that literacy and non-formal education centers that operate in the areas affected by insecurity continue to function and are sometimes spared this violence?