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Universal Education’s Moment of Truth

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every child should have access to free primary education. Yet, 69 years after that pledge, a record number of children – some 70 million – are caught in the crossfire of humanitarian crises that are denying them schooling and placing their futures in jeopardy.

LONDON – For nearly seven decades of a tumultuous century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has served as a beacon of hope worldwide. But some of its finely crafted provisions have come back to haunt us in the form of some shocking new statistics.

Article 26 of the declaration states explicitly that every child has the right to free primary education. Yet, 69 years after that pledge, a record number of children – some 70 million – are caught in the crossfire of humanitarian emergencies that are denying them basic rights and placing their futures in jeopardy. Of these, more than 31 million girls and boys are displaced from their homes, and 11 million have been forced to flee their countries.

Compared to other children, young people displaced by conflict and crisis are half as likely to attend school. Not surprisingly, they are also the most likely victims of child labor, child marriage, and child trafficking – an unholy trinity that should weigh more heavily on the world’s conscience than it does. Of the 70 million children in peril, two in five have personally experienced violence or abuse. And although many of these children will likely never enter a classroom, school is precisely where they want – and need – to be.

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