The right to education forms a fundamental axiom of the rights of children adopted by the International Law of Human Rights due to the far reaching effects this right has on the life and future of a child, as well as the effects it has on the society that the child lives in at large.
This right has been subjected to systematic and continuous violations since the beginning of the popular uprisings against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in March 2011 and until today, reaching record levels on an international scale. We will point to the most prominent of these violations in this report, and the reasons behind them.
Since the beginning of 2011, field events in Syria have led to a large drop out of students in education. In a report published on 13/12/2013, UNICEF said that 2.2 million children in Syria were no longer going to school, in addition to approximately half a million Syrian children in refugee areas. Most of these children are in their second or third year of being cut off from their education.
Reasons for the Cutting off of Education
Among the most prominent reasons for the cutting off of education, according to the team behind this report:
1) The Security Situation
The continuous and ceaseless bombing of many areas, (and for more than two years in some areas), means that most services no longer run in these areas, including that of education. Residents of such areas avoid gatherings of large numbers unless there is an urgent need for it, and particularly after a number of schools, bakeries, and fuel stations were targeted when large gatherings had formed in those areas.
In some areas, and particularly in the Eastern Ghouta and Homs, ongoing siege has been a primary reason for the complete stoppage of all services. For example, it is no longer possible for students and teachers to travel to their schools if they are outside the area that is under siege, in the same way that it is no longer possible for international and local organizations to run the schools and provide them with the necessary resources.
3) The Direct Targeting of Schools
The report of the Secretary General of the United Nations, published on 27/1/2014, pointed to the fact that more than 3000 schools – around 14% of all schools in Syria- had been completely or partially destroyed, whilst more than 1068 schools had been converted into shelters. Put together, this data means that over a quarter of all Syrian schools can no longer run their original services.
4) Asylum and Displacement: The continuous shelling of civilian areas has led to the asylum and displacement of approximately 10 million Syrians, which means that children have moved with their families to other areas. Areas of displacement do not have educational services, and refugee areas either provide weak or delayed educational services. Another report released by UNICEF on 10/10/2013 also points to the presence of around one million children among Syrian refugees that have no family.
5) The Psychological and Social Impact on children: The events taking place in Syria have led to a large number of children experiencing depression and emotional trauma as a result of the violence they are witnessing on a daily basis, or due to the loss of family members which has disrupted their normal routine, including enrollment in the educational process.
This matter is not restricted to children living in hot spots within Syria, but also affects those children residing in refugee countries. A report issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that 29% of the children whom they interviewed in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon are suffering from social isolation, and do not leave their camps except once a week. Half of the children in Al-Zatari camp in Jordan do not receive an education, whereas the report also said that the number of refugee children in Lebanon that do not receive an education exceeds that of those that go to school. Until the date of preparation of the report (which dates back to last year), the number of Syrian refugees of school age had reached almost 200,000.
6) The economical situation: The economical situation which Syrians within the country and in refugee areas are suffering from means that a large number of children are looking for jobs in order to help their families, or in order to support themselves after having lost their families. One million children refugees have no family- this number may well also exist inside Syria!
The spread of child labour in areas which do not fall under regime control in Syria has largely increased; as well as in refugee areas, and especially in Lebanon and Turkey in which Syrian children work as street vendors, or in simple service jobs such as cleaning and transportation.
7) The Health of the Children: The continuous shelling and targeting of opposition areas in Syria has led to a sharp rise in the number of partially and fully disabled civilians, with children forming no less than 50% of that number. SHRC estimates the number of partially and completely disabled children to be around 200,000 children.
Due to the destroyed infrastructure of areas which do not fall under regime control, as well as the lack of schools designed to serve those with special needs and the weak health services in these regions, most disabled children are unable to move- even small distances- without the help of others. This service cannot be provided on a daily basis in order to go to school.
Future Effects of Violations of the Right to Education
Without doubt, violations in the rights of children have a long lasting effect on the future of the society, particularly when it is of the scale being witnessed in Syria within the last few years.
Due to the centrality of the right to education within the system of children’s rights, the violation of this right in a large and systematic manner will leave a great impact on the next Syrian generation.
It must be noted that these future effects will become greater if the effect of these violations continue to grow and if no appropriate measures are taken in order to reduce them.
Among the gravest of effects to be expected within the next 20 years due to the current violations taking place against the right of education include:
1) The rise of illiteracy within Syrians: the level of illiteracy was high even before the crisis began, with an average of 15.9% of illiteracy for Syrians over the age of 15 in 2011. In the case of no child being cut off from education during the coming educational year- which began last week- the average illiteracy rate in Syria within 10 years will be approximately 25-30% of the population. However, the reality is that around two million children will miss out on education this year, including one million who have not yet even been to school and have not yet learnt how to read or write.
2) A Sharp Rise in Domestic and Social Violence, since most children not attending school do not have any alternative programme with which to fill up their time in a purposeful manner. In addition, a large number of them are subjected to violent scenes which will impact their psychological and social behavior and will lead to unhealthy societal behavior unless they are provided with special training programmes, which are unavailable in the foreseeable future.
It should be noted that the absence or weakness of the role of parents in the education and development of the child may be due to the absence of both or one of the parents for many of the children, or that the parents themselves are also being subjected to the effects of violence and displacement and are unable to downplay these effects on their children, deepening these negative effects in the life of the child.
3) The Declining Role of Women in Society, as a result of the large number of female children that are not attending school, in comparison to the males. This number had been higher before the crisis began, with illiteracy among females above 15 years of age in 2011 at 22.3%, compared to 9.7% of males.
4) An Increase in Pressure on the Education Sector, in order to rebuild its infrastructure and compensate for the sharp lack of its resources. There are currently more than 1500 schools which require complete or partial rebuilding, and this will not be a matter of priority for any future government due to the large scale of destruction in all sectors, in particular that of residential areas which have lost an excess of one million homes. In addition, the education sector has lost a large number of its qualified experts? among the victims- whose numbers exceed 200,000 people- and among those who have sought asylum outside Syria and may not return.
Based on the above points, the Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC) confirms the critical importance of the right to education as a fundamental right of the child and as a forming principle in the first generation of human rights. SHRC also points out the grave and serious future effects caused by the violation of this right in comparison to the violations of other rights, and confirms the following:
1) The importance of all relevant and concerned governments and international organizations in working together to stop children dropping out of school , especially in refugee countries, and to help pupils who have missed more than a year or education in catching up, as well as providing programmes for children in teaching them reading and writing.
2) It is incumbent upon civil society organizations in Syria and internationally to make the right to education a priority in their upcoming activities and campaigns, including the rehabilitation of schools and teacher training.
3) The need to rehabilitate a large number of counsellors, psychologists, and social workers that are qualified to deal with children that have suffered the effects of war, including the effects of violence, displacement, and racial discrimination; as well as the need to encourage Syrians to pursue related careers due to their importance for the future of their country.
4) The importance of all sides to work to stop the main violation which has been the reason for children dropping out of school, that is, the constant, systematic bombing of the Syrian regime through the use of warplanes, poisonous and chemical weapons, as well as its direct killing, arbitrary arrests and torture of civilians. These violations have led to the rest of the violations discussed in this report.