Statement at conference on Safe Schools Declaration

State Secretary Marianne Hagen's statement at the third international conference on the Safe Schools Declaration.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

  • I would like to start by thanking the Government of Spain for the leadership it has shown by hosting the Third International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration. It is a privilege to be here with other states and organisations that share a commitment to protecting children and young people and safeguarding their right to education in situations of armed conflict.
  • According to Save the Children’s latest report, almost one fifth of all children live in areas affected by armed conflict. Armed conflicts cause immense humanitarian suffering and have a severe impact on the civilian population. Children are particularly vulnerable. This is why child protection is a key priority in Norway’s new humanitarian strategy.
  • Children affected by armed conflict are entitled to protection under international humanitarian law. Failure to protect them has long-term, devastating effects on the individual child and their communities. But when governments and armed groups take steps to strengthen protection of children and their families, this enhances the prospects for peace and reconciliation, promotes the re-establishment of basic services and civilian infrastructure, and facilitates the return and reintegration of displaced people.
  • Children must be given the legal and social protection they are entitled to as children, regardless of context. This includes children recruited by armed forces or groups.
  • Conflicts leave children traumatised. They are often separated from their families and communities. For these children, it is vital that school is a safe place where they can receive support and an education that offers opportunities for the future.
  • The right to education is essential, even in situations of conflict and crisis. We must invest in quality education in these situations, and not just at the primary level. In order to ensure that these investments pay off, we must do more to protect education from attack.
  • According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, attacks on education took place in 87 countries between 2014 and 2018. Military use of educational institutions was documented in 30 countries affected by armed conflict or insecurity. Girls and female students and teachers were directly targeted in at least 18 countries.
  • This is our call to action. These attacks affect children and their future in dramatic ways. They strike at the core of communities and often lead to institutions closing, staff leaving, and systems breaking down. This leaves children vulnerable and drives displacement, recruitment to armed groups, and child labour.
  • Rebuilding and restoring these systems and services after conflict often takes a very long time. In effect, children may be denied their right to education for years after a conflict ends.
  • This is why civil society, and Norway and Argentina in cooperation with other states and international organisations, started the process that resulted in the Safe Schools Declaration. Exactly four years ago today, the First International Conference on Safe Schools was convened in Oslo. By the end of the conference, 37 states had endorsed the Declaration.
  • What a difference four years can make! Today, 88 states have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. This means that 88 states have made a commitment to protect children and education from attack, and to implement the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.
  • In just four years, the Declaration and the Guidelines have become firmly established as key instruments for promoting child protection in conflict situations. They are often referred to when the protection of civilians and children in armed conflict is on the agenda of the UN Security Council.
  • The number of endorsing states keeps growing, and half of all UN member states will soon have endorsed the Declaration. I would like to congratulate you all on the progress we have made together.
  • The Safe Schools Declaration provides a framework for states, international organisations and civil society to share best practices and propose ways to protect education in situations of armed conflict. It is a key task for all of us to ensure that the Declaration is implemented at national and local levels, and that it makes a real difference on the ground.
  • Many states, with the support of civil society and international organisations, are taking practical steps to protect education at all levels – from primary schools to universities.
  • We have heard states express a wish for closer cooperation on the implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration. There is considerable knowledge and experience at country level and in regional organisations. At the same time, there is a need to find ways of sharing best practice more systematically.
  • Norway would like to take the opportunity here in Palma to propose the establishment of a network of experts to strengthen state-to-state cooperation on the implementation of the Declaration. We would welcome input and hope to find partners who can help to develop this idea. Our aim is to establish a network of this kind next year.
  • Better protection of schools in armed conflict requires a long-term commitment on the part of the international community. Norway is a consistent partner and will do its part. We will continue to give priority to child protection, education in emergencies, and the implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration.
  • We will also continue to emphasise that children and young people need to be included in a meaningful way so that they can influence their own future and that of their communities. Our policies and operational plans must reflect how children are affected in today’s armed conflicts. If we are to achieve the SDGs, we cannot leave any child behind.

Thank you.