The blatant kidnapping of 89 school boys preparing for exams last week stands as another callous example of the dangers students face in conflict zones, and of the threat education poses to those seeking power.
According to a UNICEF report, gunmen stormed the village of Wau Shilluk and kidnapped at least 89 school-aged boys, some as young as 13, along with six teachers. The number of those abducted may be far higher than first reported.
According to Education International (EI), it is increasingly clear that neither boys nor girls are safe in the midst of conflict, with armed groups around the world targeting all children for advantageous reasons.
“Just as we witnessed the shocking abduction of more than 200 girls in Nigeria and the massacre of 132 students in Pakistan last year, this incident in South Sudan is yet again a stark reminder of how education is under attack,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “This must serve as a wakeup call to the international community of the imperative role that schools play as a bastion of safety and learning for children. Schools and education are the answer to conflict prevention.”
Education International has worked closely with UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown in the establishment of the Safe Schools Initiative, launched last year.
In a statement released over the weekend, Julia Gillard, the Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) affirmed that “schools have to be safe places where children can learn and teachers teach without fear of being attacked,” adding that “the recruitment and use of children in armed forces and groups is a grave violation of international law.”
It has been estimated that roughly 12,000 children have been recruited as child soldiers since South Sudan’s civil war began 14 months ago. The village of Wau Shilluk, located in an oil-rich government controlled region, has been overwhelmed by internally displaced people, pushing its population beyond 90,000.