Gordon Brown to urge UN to ensure education for refugee children

Refugee children should be guaranteed education as well as food and shelter, Gordon Brown will say.
Gordon Brown. Picture: JPGordon Brown. Picture: JP
Gordon Brown. Picture: JP

In a speech to a Brussels summit on education emergencies, the former prime minister will warn that 2016 has been the worst year since the Second World War for children’s safety around the world.

He will highlight alleged war crimes in Syria and Libya, Boko Haram militants in Nigeria terrorising millions of girls to stop them going to school, and rising levels of child marriage, child trafficking and child labour.

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The United Nations and World Bank should now secure the funds needed to ensure the safety and education of 30 million displaced children and 10 million child refugees worldwide, Mr Brown will say.

They should also commit to ensuring schools are protected as safe havens, children are not used as “weapons of war” or soldiers, every refugee child’s right to education is upheld, and to fully investigate war crimes against children.

He will criticise some recent humanitarian appeals for giving just two per cent of funding to education in emergencies, when refugees are on average exiled from their home countries for 10 years, leaving some children without schooling for their entire childhood.

“That is no childhood at all,” the UN global education envoy will say.

“It is surely time to urgently find a funding formula that will allow guaranteed support for refugees - and a chance for them not simply to have food and shelter but schooling too.”

Mr Brown will also warn that international law is being “routinely and casually violated” globally, with schools becoming theatres of war and children forced to fight on the frontline of civil conflicts in countries like South Sudan.

He will also renew his call for the International Criminal Court to investigate the October bombing of a school in Idlib, Syria, which killed more than 30 people, mostly children, insisting evidence is mounting of a war crime perpetrated by Russian-Syrian operations.

Mr Brown will say: “With 500,000 children under siege in Syria and Iraq, an International Criminal Court investigation into the abuse of children in Libya, evidence mounting of a war crime committed in October against schoolchildren in Idlib, Syria, and a total of 30 million children displaced, 2016 will go down as the year in post-war history when it has never been more unsafe to be a child.

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“No child in Syria’s conflict zones is safe, not even in hospitals or the recently-opened underground classrooms. The evidence grows of war crimes against girls trafficked out of Libya. In Nigeria, millions of girls live in fear of Boko Haram and will not go to school.

“With child marriage, child trafficking and child labour on the rise - and with thousands of girls having vanished on the routes from the Middle East to Europe - it can now be more dangerous to be a girl or a boy out on the streets than a soldier in the trenches.”