In February 2023, UNICEF reported a ninefold increase in acts of violence against schools in Haiti over the period of 12 months. Schools have been the locus of attacks and violence by armed groups and this has a direct impact on one of the most fundamental human rights of children: education. Education is not only the pillar of a welfare state but is also fundamental for the development of social capital in the country. Violence in Haiti stands as a barrier to the progression of children’s education.
Violence in Numbers
According to reports by UNICEF partners, armed gangs targeted 72 educational institutions in Haiti in the first four months of the scholastic year (October to February) compared to eight during the same time the year prior. In particular, armed groups attacked a minimum of 13 school facilities, set a school on fire, murdered one pupil and kidnapped a minimum of two school staff workers.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that armed factions rule 60% of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. Gangs targeting schools also steal critical educational supplies, such as desks, blackboards and computers. Along with cafeteria equipment, gangs steal vital supplies of “rice, dough and maize” used to provide school lunches, which are sometimes the only meals Haitian children eat in a day.
Impacts of Escalating Violence in Haiti
Due to the rising violence in metropolitan areas, 30 schools closed their doors in just the first six days of February 2023 and more than 25% of schools have stayed closed since October 2022, a decision that principals took to protect staff and students. Students missed an average of one and a half school days per week in January 2023 due to the risk of violence. By the end of June 2023, according to UNICEF, pupils could miss out on 36 days of education if no one took action to safeguard schools from violence. Despite the risk, the Haitian Ministry of Education has pushed for schools to reopen. As a result, three out of four schools reopened by December 2022, up from fewer than one in 10 reopenings in October.
A UNICEF report for the period July to November 2022 highlights the organization’s efforts to safeguard children’s rights to education. In Haiti, during the summer vacation, UNICEF funded a summer children’s camp in Lycee National de la Saline, providing 803 Haitian children with “a safe space for children to express themselves through plays and other activities.” UNICEF also gave cash transfers to 1,200 impoverished families with school-age children in Port-au-Prince and areas that the most recent earthquake affected. UNICEF is also providing support for the renovation of three educational facilities in Cité Soleil along with the supply of school furniture and learning materials.
UNICEF urges the Haitian government to make sure that schools are secure and to prosecute organizations and people who endanger or hurt children while attending school. The U.N. praises education for not only imparting knowledge and skills but also for transforming lives and propelling growth for individuals, groups and nations, saying that schools “must be places of learning, safety and harmony.”
Overall, the U.N. urges all nations to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, “an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools and universities, from the worst effects of armed conflict.” This declaration has received support from 111 nations so far and lays out specific actions that governments can take to safeguard educational institutions. In line with this, U.N. head António Guterres said at a virtual event in September 2021, “We urge Member States to go beyond their obligations under international law and implement national policies and laws that safeguard schools and learners.” The loss stemming from education disruptions is significant. By upholding children’s rights to education, the international community safeguards the future.
– Carmen Corrales Alonso