UN Strike Keeps Children out of School in West Bank

Palestinian Children, HebronNearly 51,000 children living in refugee camps in the West Bank have been out of school since early December 2013 due to a strike by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) employees. The strike has deprived resident refugees of schooling, medical care and other basic essential services. Young Palestinians have led protests in the West Bank to call attention to their dire circumstances and demand assistance.

The UNRWA is in the midst of an economic crisis due to the high cost of responding to the Syrian civil war along with several other crises worldwide. As a result, many UNRWA employees have been dismissed and others have been denied requested pay raises. Approximately 5,000 Palestinians work in the 19 camps established in the West Bank to assist nearly 740,000 refugees. Since the strike began, schools have closed, health centers have stopped treating patients, food distribution has ceased, and trash has begun piling in the streets without anyone to collect it. Palestinian protests in response to the strike have also had negative consequences. Protesters have used stones and burning tires to block roads near refugee camps, and they have also thrown stones at police officers who responded with tear gas , baton and stone attacks. These clashes have resulted in injuries to both protesters and police.

“We are protesting because the UNRWA employees are on strike and this have led to the closure of schools and clinics. This affects me too. It affects my education. And look at the trash all over the place,” explained 14 year old Hamzeh Al Bis from the Al Amari refugee camp

Palestinian refugees in these UN camps are extremely frustrated and feel abandoned by the government and the international community. Palestinian Committees explained that they organized protests in order to call attention to the dire circumstances under which they are currently living. Only after they began blocking  roads and clashing with Palestinian police did they gain the international attention they desired. This delayed response has led to feelings of frustration and victimization.

According to Dr. Adel Yihye, an anthropologist from the Jalazun refugee camp, “the essence of being a refugee is betrayal. You were betrayed, you were a victim, and nobody takes any notice of you. That’s a central part of the refugees’ psychology.”

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Women’s Rights Convention Approved in Bahrain

Young Bahraini womanBahrain signed onto the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2002. At that time, the government listed several reservations against specific articles of the convention. Bahrain’s Supreme Council for Women has worked hard to have these reservations lifted, meeting strong opposition from Members of Parliament who argued further rights for women would have “dangerous repercussions on Bahraini society.” Despite resistance, the government of Bahrain has announced it will approve the lifting of all reservations to the Convention on women’s rights.

In 2008, the CEDAW Committee called upon the government of Bahrain to remove its reservations because they were considered to be “contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention.” Specifically, Bahrain has held reservations to several articles considered to be potentially incompatible with Sharia law. For this reason, the government made the provision that it would apply CEDAW with reservations to articles that deal with eliminating discrimination, transmitting nationality to children, freedom of movement and choice of residence, marriage and divorce.

“The government made the reservations when it was not sure it could comply with them (certain articles of CEDAW), but now everyone can see that women in Bahrain have full rights as guaranteed by the constitution and international conventions. Lifting the reservations doesn’t contradict Sharia (Islamic law) as propagandised, it is actually in line with it” explained Sameera Rajab, Minister of State for Information Affairs.

Not everyone agrees that women in Bahrain have full rights. In July 2013, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights released a report on the status of women’s rights and CEDAW compliance. This report stated that discrimination and violations of women’s rights have increased in recent years in response to the protest movement which began in 2011.

The question remains whether or not women in Bahrain will be granted further rights and protections as provided in CEDAW.  Now that the Cabinet has approved the lifting of reservations, the Convention will be sent to the National Assembly for a vote by both Parliament and the Shura Council. If the vote passes, all elements of CEDAW will be enacted but if not it is unclear whether conditions will significantly change.

CEDAW was first adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979. It defined discrimination against women as being “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women…of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

The Convention established an agenda for signing countries to follow in order to end all forms of discrimination against women. When countries accept and sign CEDAW, they are permitted to enter reservations as long as they do not contradict the general principles of the Convention. Reservations are allowed only to some articles of the Convention on the basis that they may contradict national culture, religion, laws and traditions.

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UN, World Bank, EU Pledge $8.25 Billion in Aid to Sahel Region

Sahel food crisis 2012: drought response in MauritaniaThe World Bank, European Union, and the United Nations are pledging $8.25 billion to encourage economic growth in the Sahel of Africa, a developing region between the Sahara desert and the Sudanian Savanna. The announcement was made last week during a trip to the area by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The EU will donate $6.75 billion over seven years, while the World Bank will donate $1.5 billion over two years.

Ban Ki-Moon also announced that the UN would devote $200 million of the funds to improving reproductive health and education for girls and women. The World Bank already has $150 million devoted to women in the region in the next two years. The combined funds will help create maternal and child health programs in the Sahel, make reproductive health commodities more affordable, and create training centers for rural midwifery and nursing services.

The Sahel is notoriously underdeveloped region that suffers from frequent drought and conflict. The area has seen three major droughts in the last decade. Millions of people are starving or malnourished. It is estimated that 5 million children are malnourished. The region is rife with organized crime, terrorism, and warfare.

The visit continued through Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad. The trip ended on November 8.

Ban Ki-moon was optimistic, saying, “The challenges in the Sahel respect no borders – neither should our solutions. The cycle of crises can be broken…By working together and investing in governance, security, resilience and opportunity for women and young people, we can help the Sahel move from fragility to sustainability.”

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Neighboring Countries Struggle to Support Syrian Refugee Children

Relief effort for Syrian refugees in Babusselam in Kilis-Syria border, November 2012

The Jordanian school system, which is already struggling to support its Jordanian youth, is in danger of collapsing due to the sudden influx of Syrian refugee children. School-age children from 5 to 17 years old comprise 35 percent of the Syrian refugee population in Jordan–most of them are not able to attend school in Jordan due to overcrowding and an insufficient amount of educational resources.

Syrian families have have been leaving Syria since the beginning of the civil war: this summer, a large exodus of Syrian families found refuge in surrounding countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey.  This has caused an extreme strain on the educational facilities, among other national stresses, of these countries.

Jordan’s school systems have to utilize double shifts–morning and afternoon classes with different students–to accommodate their own large student population. In the past few years, there have been efforts to eliminate these shifts. However, with the influx of Syrian refugee children, these shifts have become necessary again. These shifts continue to add to the pressure on Jordan’s educational system; double shifting puts an added strain on teachers, school infrastructure, and parents and families.

However, even with these accommodations, many Syrian students don’t have access to education. According to UNICEF, more than 81,000 syrian refugee children are enrolled in learning programs in Jordan. Nevertheless, attendance is still very low.

Yusra Shinwan fled from Syria with her two children. At the start of this school year, she tried to register her children in some schools. She was able to register them, but was told to her children could not attend until a double shift was instituted. They are still waiting. She says, “my 13-year-old son and 16 year-old daughter look around and see people their age going to school and they feel left behind…I fled for safety, but now they are restless and angry…they are telling me that they are wasting their education and their future. They want to go back to school in Syria.”

Curt Rhodes, International Director of Questscope, an organization aiding social development in the Middle East, says, “the focus has been on registering children…It has not been on how to help them stay in school.”

The numbers are worse in Iraq and Lebanon.  In Iraq, 90-95% of Syrian refugee children are not enrolled in school. UNICEF warns that this is creating a lost generation of students.

However, in an effort to fight against this lost generation of students, many international organizations are creating avenues of aid for Syrian refugee students and for children in general. September 21st marks this year’s International Day of Peace--the theme this year is “Education for Peace.” The United Nations has marked this day as an exhortation to invest in education more intentionally.

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UN Launches Emergency Campaign to Prevent the Spread of Polio in Middle East

Vacina Polio (10)The World Health Organization is leading an extensive campaign in seven Middle Eastern countries to immunize 20 million children against the polio virus. This effort is intended to stop the current polio outbreak in Syria from spreading throughout the region.

To achieve this, UNICEF and WHO will coordinate to vaccinate children throughout Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. Already, more than 650,000 children in Syria have been vaccinated for this and other infectious diseases; many more children in Syria remain inaccessible to medical staff because of existing violence.

For the first time in fourteen years, an outbreak of the polio virus has been confirmed in war-torn areas of Syria. Since the conflict began, polio immunization rates have fallen dramatically from greater than 90% to now only 68% as children born in the past two years have been denied access to the vaccine. Without adequate vaccination and a lack of basic hygiene and sanitation, Syria’s children are at risk of a devastating outbreak. Since the first cases were reported in mid-October, the polio virus has been confirmed in 13 of 22 children who have developed acute paralysis in recent weeks.

Sona Bari, spokesperson for WHO, explained “all the children (paralyzed) are under two years old, so they were all born after immunization services fell apart. No doubt the outbreak will be large”

The threat extends beyond Syria to all countries in the region which have been absorbing large numbers of refugees fleeing the conflict. Testing has already confirmed the presence of polio virus in sewage tested in Egypt, Israel and Palestine, but due to high rates of immunization in these areas no cases of polio have yet been reported.

“The polio outbreak in Syria is not just a tragedy for children; it is an urgent alarm — and a crucial opportunity to reach all under-immunized children wherever they are. This should serve as a stark reminder to countries and communities that polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere” said Peter Crowley, UNICEF’s Chief of Polio.

Polio virus is extremely infectious, especially in unsanitary conditions and can cause symptoms within only a few hours of infection. The majority of children infected will experience symptoms of fever, stiffness and pain in the muscles, vomiting and lethargy. One out of every 200 children infected with the virus will suffer further from an irreversible paralysis that can lead to death in 5 to 10% of cases.

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UN Demands Release of Child Soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo

Unrest Continues in Congolese North Kivu RegionNew report released by MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in Dem. Of Congo, details the conditions of child soldiers currently held captive by three armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. MONUSCO is calling upon international donors, the government and agencies concerned for the welfare of children to help stop recruitment and provide appropriate recovery.

Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission, called the issue “an atrocity” and is demanding the armed groups to release the children. The MONUSCO report verified that between January 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013, almost 1,000 cases of child recruitment were reported primarily from the North Kivu region. 450 children currently accounted for were held by the Hutu Militia Nyatura (190 children), the Rwandan Hutu Rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (136), and the Tutsi Movement of March 23 (124).

According to the MONUSCO statement, “children who were victim of recruitment within the ranks of these armed groups were also victims and witnesses of other grave child rights violations, such as rape, abduction, killing and maiming.” The children recruited are reportedly used as porters, cooks, spies, sex slaves, guards and combatants.

Minors formerly associated with M23 described how they were tasked to bury bodies of adults and children who lost their lives during clashes with the FARDC and other armed groups,” explained the report.

Kobler is vehemently fighting against the current conditions and said “this situation is unacceptable and has been going on for much too long with impunity. Recruiting children into armed groups is a crime, and destroys the lives of the victims who are forced to do things that no child should be involved in. We need to stop this now. One case of child recruitment is one case too many.” 

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Dominican Republic Invests in Climate Education

Dominican Republic

Many teachers in the Dominican Republic  are taking the initiative to enroll in courses in climate change, all in an effort to educate their students. The Dominican Council on Climate Change has launched privately funded climate diploma courses that teachers and government officials can enroll in. In addition to this, they have launched another education initiative to train 200 teachers in climate change. The Dominican Republic’s Minister of Education is now considering making climate change a part of DR’s school curriculum.

The DR is a nation greatly threatened by climate change. According to a study conducted by the Dominican Institute for Integral Development (IDDI) this summer,  the Caribbean country is the seventh most vulnerable country in the world. However, most Dominicans are not aware of these dire conditions. IDDI’s Evaydée Pérez says, “One of the most acute challenges we face in our country today is the low level of knowledge about almost any kind of topic linked to climate change and its consequences.” Indhira De Jesus, from The Nature Conservatory, a sponsor of the climate education program, says, “ We have big deficits in the field of climate education. Only 5.9% of people in the region have access to reliable information on climate change and its consequences.” Moises Alvarez, the National Coordinator of UN CC:Learn, a climate education initiative sponsored by the UN, says, “In the long run, no strategy against climate change can work if the public is not sufficiently educated or informed.” Many Dominican leaders of climate change education believe that local decision-makers and government officials need to know more about climate change and its consequences in order to tackle the problems this Caribbean nation is faced with.

Many teachers have enrolled in these classes and have found them very beneficial. Yndira Rodriquez, who has spent 192 hours in the past few months—including weekends and free time—to learn about climate change, believes that her new knowledge will help her students. She says, “I’ve learned so much—everything from cartography to the various effects of climate change on our environment to pedagogical concepts on how to teach what I’ve learned here.” She continues in saying that this knowledge will help to change the future education system; she plans to set up a “green school” where children and adolescents can learn about the environment and how to protect it best. She continues, “If we start when they’re young, they can bring that message home with them and in turn educate others—and that would be a completely sustainable campaign.”

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UN Declares Education a Priority for Peace

Untitled On September 21, countries and people around the world observed this year’s International Day of Peace and the theme of “Education for Peace.”The United Nations marked this day with a call for further investment in education to teach the world’s children the values of tolerance and diversity as a first step towards addressing underlying causes of violent conflict around the world.

According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “it is not enough to teach children how to read, write and count. Education has to cultivate mutual respect for others and the world in which we live, and help people forge more just, inclusive and peaceful societies.”

Estimates predict that 57 million children throughout the world live without any access to education, while millions of others receive a substandard level of education. In recent years, conflicts like those seen in Syria, Mali, and the Central African Republic have increasingly contributed to this statistic. Currently, approximately 28.5 million children live in countries where persistent violence prevents them from attending school.

Although the need for educational aid continues to rise, funding has begun to drop. To address this growing problem, the UN Secretary-General developed the 5-year plan for Global Education First in 2012. This strategy, in combination with the Education Cannot Wait advocacy group, seeks to ensure that education becomes a primary objective within international development, with special attention paid to areas experiencing humanitarian crises.

Education provided to children living in extreme conditions of poverty and deprivation will not only help provide opportunities and support development, but it will also teach children the value of non-violence. These lessons have the potential to prevent future conflict and violence. As stated in UNESCO’s Constitution, “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.”

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Peru Edges Closer to Universal Primary Education

DSC_2371Peru’s resident United Nations Coordinator, Rebeca Arias, announced on September 18th that the country has met several of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals ahead of schedule. Peru has succeeded in meeting the goals for poverty reduction and reducing child mortality. In addition, the country is on the brink of meeting the goal of achieving universal primary education.

Ms. Arias congratulated the country on its progress. She reported that in recent years, Peru has been able to reduce the poverty rate by 50%, and has succeeded in reducing child mortality by 69%.

Additionally, Ms. Arias noted, the country is approaching universal primary education. The latest estimates put the net primary school enrollment rate at 97%, and importantly, enrollment is roughly equal for both boys and girls.

However, there is still a great deal of work to be done, even in the areas where the MDGs have been achieved. Peru’s RPP news agency noted that although there has been vast improvement in nationwide statistics, in many cases there remains a wide variation between urban and rural areas.

The poverty rate is much higher in rural regions of the country, and standards of living are generally lower. In addition, according to RPP, education indicators lag behind among children in rural areas, including in some parts of the Amazon where only an estimated four percent of children show adequate reading and math skills. In some places the gap between urban and rural students is exacerbated because many children are not taught in their native language.

In 2000, the UN set out its eight Millennium Development Goals to be met by the end of 2015. In addition to universal primary schooling, reduction of poverty and hunger, and reduction of child mortality, nations around the world strive to promote gender equality and empower women, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development.

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Spotlight Falls on Disabled Children in West Africa

Heart of an OrphanAs the UN’s first High-Level Meeting on Disabled Persons concluded September 23rd, reports emerged from news agencies around the world highlighting the situation of disabled children in West Africa.

Field research conducted by Plan International in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Niger uncovered widespread discrimination and violence against children with disabilities. Researchers concluded that community perceptions about disabilities and family shame contribute in a large part to the mistreatment of disabled children. Female children, those with intellectual disabilities, and those with severe disabilities were found to suffer the most abuse.

Plan International’s report, Outside the Circle, indicates that disabled children in West Africa often suffer exclusion, discrimination, and high levels of poverty. In addition, they are routinely denied access to education. Children with disabilities are less likely to start school, have lower attendance rates, and have fewer opportunities to pursue higher education.

Though all countries in West Africa have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, reports indicate that governments have taken little action to stop abuse and discrimination.

The UN’s General Assembly Meeting on Persons with Disabilities called further attention to barriers that disabled persons often face, and reaffirmed the need for the world to take action. The General Assembly adopted a resolution for world governments to work to ensure equal access to education, health care, transport, and employment for persons with disabilities.

The resolution also acknowledged the value of the contribution of persons with disabilities to “the general well-being, progress, and diversity of society.”

No data on disabled persons has been collected by West African governments, and in some cases family members are thought to hide the existence of children born with disabilities. An estimated one billion people around the world have a disability, of which 106 million are children.

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