The Severe Consequences of Conflict: 7.8 Million Children Do Not Have Access to Education

The ongoing conflict in Myanmar is causing significant disruptions to children's access to education, affecting their development and the country's peace, stability, and economy.

The Severe Consequences of Conflict:   7.8 Million Children Do Not Have Access to Education
A destroyed classroom. by Emmanuel Codden, via Pexels, 2023/September 9th

29-05-2024

Pauliina Majasaari

Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

 

Kiy, a 14-year-old girl from Magway Region in Myanmar said: “There have been no teachers in my village since the fighting began. My dream is to be a businesswoman. I am unhappy and so sad when I think about my future.” In a conflict torn country, like Myanmar, the children and their respective rights are severely impacted and the attacks targeted on schools can be considered to be attacks on the future of the children as they are missing out on the opportunity to learn.

 

The lack of access to education for children in Myanmar is the result of multitude factors. COVID-19 sparked the closure of schools, and with the continuing conflict, schools have not been able to reopen. The presence of escalation of attacks on school buildings and on school staff has been vast, with at least 260 recorded attacks on schools between May 2021 and April 2022, and explosions within and around schools. Additionally, 33 schools have been set on fire and 10 direct attacks have been conducted towards educational staff. Moreover school buildings have been in many instances occupied by armed actors which itself prevents the schools being used for educational purposes. An estimate of half of the children in Myanmar, amounting up to 7.8 million, are deprived of formal education, due to school closures and an insufficient number of teachers. The lack of access to education has far reaching implications, including on the development and future of the children as well as on the country as whole from perspectives of peace, stability, economy and development. However, international organisation, such as World Vision, has been setting up new avenues for learning such reading groups in cut off areas, training communities in non-formal education, distributing remote learning packages and educating community members and leaders on the importance of on-going education from social and economic viewpoints.

 

In order to protect the children’s right to education enshrined within article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in a conflict torn country, international humanitarian customary law sets out the protection of certain objects from military attacks. According to Rule 7 parties to a conflict must make a distinction between civilian objects and military objectives, and only attacks directed against military objectives are allowed. In line with Rule 9, civilian objects are considered to be objects that are not military objectives or objects that are not used for military purposes, and protects amongst others, school buildings from an attack.[1] In addition, the CRC, under article 29 grants the right to children’s development, through education to ensure the development of child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to the fullest potential. It is evident that conflicts affect the status of educational possibilities and the children’s development, and thereby it is of utmost importance to promote the values set within article 29 and enhance mutual understanding, peace and tolerance amongst children. Similarly the CRC under article 6, places an obligation on the state parties to ensure to a maximum extent the development of a child.

 

Myanmar is violating the children’s right to education as the presence of the conflict is severely restricting children’s access to education. Firstly, the principle of distinction of civilian objects and military objectives has not been abided by, as multiple attacks have been targeted at school buildings, and also instances of setting schools on fire have taken place. Furthermore, the Myanmar military has intentionally targeted schools led by teachers and community workers who had previously joined the Civil Disobedience Movement which led to the dismissal of over 30% of the teaching workforce, and the schools were thereby operating out of the military’s control. In some instances, armed actors have occupied school buildings to be used as a military bases and thereby the buildings lose protection status as the civilian object is turned into a military objective used for military purpose, leading to the fact that they are considered to be lawful targets. However, such practice is preferably to be deterred from as the occupying armed actors are taking away valuable learning spaces from children to utilise as well as risk damaging the school buildings, considering there is already a shortage of schools for all the children of Myanmar due to school closures. Additionally, using school buildings for military purposes subjects them to vulnerability of attack from the rivalry. An estimate of four million children, which amounts to half of the school-aged children, have not accessed education for two academic years in a row, which is severely affecting the children’s ability to develop to their full potential, as ensured under Article 6 of the CRC.

 

Consequently, Myanmar and the ethnic armed forces are asked by multiple international actors, such as international human rights and various other organisations, to refrain from using schools for military purposes and therefore protect the civilian character of school buildings from attacks and ensure there are educational spaces available for children. Additionally, the international community is urged by several actors, such as the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, to provide humanitarian assistance and financial aid to the children of Myanmar to ensure they could keep going to school and fully develop into their future potential.

 

Sources and further readings:

Shi Xian, ‘Education Crisis in Myanmar: A Surge in Out-of-School Children Amidst Pandemic and Conflict’ (Children of Mekong) <https://www.childrenofthemekong.org/education-crisis-in-myanmar-a-surge-in-out-of-school-children-amidst-pandemic-and-conflict/> accessed 28 May 2024.

Sutirtha Sinha Roy, Roy Van Der Weide and Saurav Dev Bhatta et al, ‘A generation of children are at risk of learning losses in Myanmar’ (World Bank Blogs, 24 October 2023) <https://blogs.worldbank.org/en/eastasiapacific/generation-children-are-risk-learning-losses-myanmar> accessed 28 May 2024.

Shi Xian (n 1).

‘What decades of conflict means for the children of Myanmar’ (World Vision, 6 June 2023) <https://www.worldvision.org.sg/en/news-and-updates/what-decades-conflict-means-children-myanmar> accessed 28 May 2024.

Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

‘Rule 7. The Principle of Distinction between Civilian Objects and Military Objectives’ (ICRC) <https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/customary-ihl/v1/rule7> accessed 29 May 2024.

‘Rule 9. Definition of Civilian Objects’ (ICRC) <https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/customary-ihl/v1/rule9> accessed 29 May 2024.

CRC, article 29 (1) (a).

CRC, ‘General Comment No. 1 (2001) Article 29 (1): The Aims of Education’ (17 April 2001) UN Doc CRC/GC/2001/1, para 16.

CRC, article 6 (2).

Esther J and Emily Fishbein, ‘Scarred by war, Myanmar children ‘cannot have the life they used to have’’ (Al Jazeera, 27 May 2024) <https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2024/5/27/scarred-by-war-children-in-myanmar-cannot-have-the-life-they-used-to-have> accessed 29 May 2024;  Sutirtha Sinha Roy, Roy Van Der Weide and Saurav Dev Bhatta et al (n 2).

‘The Impacts of Attacks on Education and Military Use in Myanmar’ (GCPEA, September 2022) <https://reliefweb.int/report/myanmar/impacts-attacks-education-and-military-use-myanmar> accessed 29 May 2024.

Paul Harvey, Abby Stoddard and Monica Czwarno et al, ‘Humanitarian Access SCORE Report: Myanmar’ (CORE, April 2023), 6.

‘The Impacts of Attacks on Education and Military Use in Myanmar’ (n 16).

Shi Xian (n 1).

Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

CRC, ‘General Comment No. 1 (2001) Article 29 (1): The Aims of Education’ (17 April 2001) UN Doc CRC/GC/2001/1.

Esther J and Emily Fishbein, ‘Scarred by war, Myanmar children ‘cannot have the life they used to have’’ Al Jazeera (27 May 2024) <https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2024/5/27/scarred-by-war-children-in-myanmar-cannot-have-the-life-they-used-to-have> accessed 29 May 2024.

 Paul Harvey, Abby Stoddard and Monica Czwarno et al, ‘Humanitarian Access SCORE Report: Myanmar’ CORE (April 2023).

‘Rule 9. Definition of Civilian Objects’ ICRC <https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/customary-ihl/v1/rule9> accessed 29 May 2024.

‘Rule 7. The Principle of Distinction between Civilian Objects and Military Objectives’ ICRC <https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/customary-ihl/v1/rule7> accessed 29 May 2024.

Shi Xian, ‘Education Crisis in Myanmar: A Surge in Out-of-School Children Amidst Pandemic and Conflict’ Children of Mekong <https://www.childrenofthemekong.org/education-crisis-in-myanmar-a-surge-in-out-of-school-children-amidst-pandemic-and-conflict/> accessed 28 May 2024.

Sutirtha Sinha Roy, Roy Van Der Weide and Saurav Dev Bhatta et al, ‘A generation of children are at risk of learning losses in Myanmar’ World Bank Blogs (24 October 2023) <https://blogs.worldbank.org/en/eastasiapacific/generation-children-are-risk-learning-losses-myanmar> accessed 28 May 2024.

‘The Impacts of Attacks on Education and Military Use in Myanmar’ GCPEA (September 2022) <https://reliefweb.int/report/myanmar/impacts-attacks-education-and-military-use-myanmar> accessed 29 May 2024.

‘What decades of conflict means for the children of Myanmar’ World Vision (6 June 2023) <https://www.worldvision.org.sg/en/news-and-updates/what-decades-conflict-means-children-myanmar> accessed 28 May 2024.