The right to education forms one of the foundations of the rights of children and guarantees the enabling of the system of human rights for children, since it ensures the maintenance of their social, economic, and even civil and political rights.
The convention on the rights of the child has addressed the right to education in detail, confirming that every child has a right to education and that primary education in particular should be obligatory, available and free and accessible for all. It also encourages the development of different types of secondary education, both general and vocational, and the provision of appropriate measures such as free education and financial assistance for those who require it. Higher education should also be made accessible to all on the basis of capability and children should be given all information and educational and professional guidance available. The convention also encourages measures to be taken to reduce school dropout rates and necessitates that states which have signed the convention should take all appropriate measures to ensure schools are managed in a manner consistent to a child’s human dignity.
Prior to 2011, Syria achieved an acceptable commitment in amending its laws in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it ratified on 15/7/1993, making education free and compulsory for the primary and secondary stages, in addition to providing free higher education.
However, Syria failed in its practical application of the spirit of the convention, with dropout rates remaining high compared to other Middle Eastern countries due to child labour. Data shows that around 200,000 children in the age group of 6-15 would leave school every year, and that by 2010, around 1.2 million children in this age group were out of education.
Violations Against the Right to Education
The violations being committed in Syria on a wide scale since March 2011 have affected the various industrial and service sectors, limiting the ability of Syrians to obtain their basic rights including social, cultural, and economic rights. These rights were previously implemented on a high scale, as opposed to civil and political rights.
Among the most prominent of sectors which has been targeted directly is the education sector, creating an immediate impact on the current generation of Syrian children as well as future generations.
This report will summarise the violations suffered by the education sector in Syria, and detail the effects which these violations will have on Syrian children and society.
Firstly: The Schools
1. Using Schools as Refuge Centres
Massacres committed by the Syrian regime, and later air raids, particularly with the use of explosive barrels, have led to the displacement of around 7600 000 people inside Syria in addition to approximately 4 million refugees outside Syria, amounting to around half of the Syrian population.
Most displaced people have sought refuge in school buildings since they can house the greatest number of civilians and can be used easily as opposed to other buildings such as hospitals.
An estimated 2000 schools are being used as refuge centres for displaced civilians. Removing them would be an extremely difficult process, requiring an alternative place in which to house them. Displaced civilians are refusing to leave the schools to end up in tents and it is not possible to remove them with force, as this would leave a negative impact on the general population.
2. Targeting Educational Institutions
Schools have been deliberate targets of bombs and rocket air raids, even at a time when pupils are at school. During the past three years, a large number of massacres have been documented as a result of the bombing of schools.
In 2014 alone, SHRC documented the targeting of 59 schools, among them 50 which were targeted in air raids.
The targeting of schools has even included schools operating under UNWRA: On 18/2/2014, a helicopter dropped a number of explosive barrels on Ain al-Zaytoun school- an UNWRA school with a health centre- located in an area in which Palestinian refugees reside in rural Daraa. The attack killed 18 civilians, all of whom were Palestinian refugees, including five children. The UN condemned this attack.
In addition, schools have been regularly targeted with mortar rockets of which armed opposition groups have been accused of firing. The most prominent of these incidents was when the Shaikh Badr al-Deen al-Hasani complex in Al-Shaghoor, Damascus, was attacked by three mortar rockets, leading to the death of 16 children and leaving more than 80 injured.
Schools have also been targeted with car bombs from unknown parties. The most prominent of such incidents took place on 1/10/2014, when a car exploded at the Ikrimah al-Makhzoumi primary school in the Ikrimah district of the city of Homs, killing 53 civilians, including 51 children.
3. The use of Educational Institutions as Military Bases
In addition to educational institutions being used as refuge centres and being subject to bomb attacks and air raids, they are also used as military bases by the Syrian army in particular, as well as ISIS and brigades of the armed opposition.
In 2014, SHRC documented the use of 27 schools used by the Syrian regime army as military bases, in opposition to eight which were used by ISIS and two schools used by the armed opposition.
The Reality of Schools in Syria
International reports point to the fact that around 5000 schools have been subjected to complete or partial destruction, 1172 of them in Aleppo alone.
In Idlib, 59% of the schools are in an intact state, whilst 27% have minor or moderate damage, and 13% are completely destroyed or greatly damaged. Yet, 21% of the total number of schools are being used by refugees or others, making them unacceptable for usage for educational purposes.
In Daraa, 32% of the schools are intact whilst 50% have minor to moderate damage and 20% are completely destroyed or severely damaged. A total of 14% of the schools there are being used for refugees or others.
In Hama, 57% of the schools are intact whilst 24% have minor to moderate damage and 19% are severely damaged. A total of 7% are being used as refuge centre or for other uses.
In Aleppo, 35% of schools have minor to moderate damage whilst 10% suffer from severe damage or are completely destroyed. Out of all the schools in the province, 617 are being used as refuge centres or for other uses.
In rural Damascus, 26% of the schools are intact, 23% suffer minor or moderate damage, 52% are either destroyed or suffer from severe damage, and 29% of all schools are being used for refugees or for others.
In Latakkia, 74% of schools are intact whilst 21% suffer from minor or moderate damage and 4% are either destroyed or suffer from severe damage. A total of 9% are being used as refuge centres or for other uses.
And in Homs, 54% of schools are intact, 21% suffer from minor or moderate damage, 25% are either destroyed or severely damaged, and a total of 13% of all schools are used for refugees or others.
Secondly: the Educational Process
Circumstances witnessed by the Syrian areas outside of the regime’s control as well as the circumstances of displaced Syrians and refugees have led to a large number of children being cut off from their education; some for three continuous years. UNICEF has estimated that the number of Syrian children of school age that have not had access to education until the beginning of 2014 amount to over 3 million children. UNICEF also pointed out that a fifth of all schools in Syria were destroyed fully or partially. No doubt, this number has increased since then.
In addition to the three million children of school age that are not attending school, 18% of children of school age attend school for an average of four days a week, if not more.
It is thought that child labour is the primary reason behind the 75% drop out rate of children of school age leaving school in areas outside of the regime’s influence.
It is not only school children and primary education that has been affected- higher education has stopped completely in areas outside of the regime’s influence, with no students graduating from these areas in the last three years in addition to no new students entering higher education.
The Effects of Violations against the right to Education on Children
The curtailment of the education of over three million children is having a multitude of effects on Syrian children and Syrian society as a whole, and will continue to do so in the future.
It is incumbent to note that those children that have been cut off from education are in the areas outside of the regime’s control or in refuge countries only. In addition, the destroyed schools are focussed in these areas, as opposed to areas such as Latakkia and Tartous which have largely been unaffected by the conflict and in which schools have not been affected and pupils continue their education.
This imbalance in the educational process will lead to two important effects:
– An unprecedented rise in illiteracy among Syrians, particularly taking into consideration that the circumstances which have led to the curtailment of education will continue and may even conflate, and that thousands of Syrian children will enter school age and yet not receive any education.
– The rise of an economical demographical divide due to the rise of illiteracy and the number of people who have not completed their basic education in certain areas of Syria, in contrast to other areas in which this phenomenon is low. This matter will have a clear economical effect, with jobs requiring university qualifications being focussed in unaffected areas, and jobs requiring manual skills being centred in areas affected by the conflict.
Based on the above, SHRC emphasises the critical importance of the right of education as a fundamental right of each child and a pivotal right for the first generation of human rights. SHRC also reminds of the long term future effects of the violations of this right, in contrast to other rights, and confirms the following:
1) The importance of all sides to work to address the circumstances that have led to children dropping out of school, and in particular the direct bombing of civilians and targeting of vital institutions such as schools and hospitals.
2) The importance of all concerned governments and international organisations to support the educational process in Syria, whether through the support of Syrian organisations working in the education sector or through the support of the educational process in refugee countries.
3) The importance of civil groups to work on supporting the educational process and considering it a key priority in its work in Syria.