DAVOS – In an ideal world, whenever children needed help, they would get it. When girls and boys were forced from their homes or classrooms because of war, natural disaster, or other crises, the international community would, within days, formulate a plan to ensure their immediate wellbeing. And such plans would include not only life-saving interventions, but also havens of psychological support and learning that protect opportunity and hope. Such places exist. They are called schools.
Unfortunately, ours is far from an ideal world. When children need help, days turn into weeks and months. Hundreds of desperate children become thousands and eventually millions. Hope gives way to prolonged misery – not for a few months or even a year, but on average for more than a decade. They are shut out of schools, locked out of opportunity, and condemned to live in unbearable conditions – subject to child labor or forced begging, sold into marriage, trafficked, conscripted into gangs, or recruited by extremists.
What has happened in recent years in South Sudan, northern Nigeria, and Iraq – and in Jordan, and Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children are being denied the chance to return to school – makes an overwhelming case for a new humanitarian fund for education in emergencies. What has happened during the Ebola crisis in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone – where schools serving five million children remain closed or have not reopened quickly enough – makes this case, too. Yemen and Chad are likely to be next.
In all of these countries and situations, children’s future depends on whether we, the international community, act. The Millennium Development Goals commit the international community to achieve the target of universal primary education by the end of 2015. But the official out-of-school figure currently stands at 58 million. And, once out of school for a year or more, children are unlikely to return.