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Deprived of school, future of 24 million children in conflict zones under threat – UN report

On 5 January 2016, during a school day, 9 year old Ayman sells candies in the streets of Kafar Batna village in Rural Damascus, Syria. Photo: UNICEF/Amer Al Shami

12 January 2016 – Nearly 24 million children living in crisis zones in 22 strife-torn countries are being deprived of a school education, threatening their own future and that of their societies, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today.

“Children living in countries affected by conflict have lost their homes, family members, friends, safety, and routine. Now, unable to learn even the basic reading and writing skills, they are at risk of losing their futures and missing out on the opportunity to contribute to their economies and societies when they reach adulthood,” UNICEF Chief of Education Jo Bourne said.

The analysis highlights that nearly one in four of the 109.2 million children of primary and lower secondary school age – typically between six and 15 years – living in conflict areas are missing out on their education.

South Sudan, which was thrown into turmoil when conflict erupted between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President Riek Machar two years ago, killing thousands, displacing over 2.4 million people, and impacting the food security of 4.6 million, is home to the highest proportion of out-of-school children.

Over half (51 per cent) of primary and lower secondary age children have no access to an education. Niger is a close second with 47 per cent unable to attend school, followed by Sudan with 41 per cent and Afghanistan with 40 per cent.

In countries affected by conflict, collecting data on children is extremely difficult and therefore these figures may themselves not adequately capture the breadth and depth of the challenge, UNICEF stressed.

The agency fears that unless the provision of education in emergencies is prioritized, a generation of children living in conflict will grow up without the skills they need to contribute to their countries and economies, exacerbating the already desperate situation for millions of children and their families.

Education continues to be one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals. In Uganda, where UNICEF is providing services to South Sudanese refugees, education faces an 89 per cent funding gap.

“School equips children with the knowledge and skills they need to rebuild their communities once the conflict is over, and in the short-term it provides them with the stability and structure required to cope with the trauma they have experienced,” Ms. Bourne said.

“Schools can also protect children from the trauma and physical dangers around them. When children are not in school, they are at an increased danger of abuse, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups.”

During episodes of instability and violence, schools become more than a place of learning. UNICEF is working to create safe environments where children can learn and play to restore normalcy to their lives. Despite these efforts, security restrictions and funding shortfalls are affecting education and the distribution of learning materials in conflict situations.

Draft UK surveillance law threatens freedom of expression, UN human rights experts warn

UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

12 January 2016 – United Nations human rights experts have called for a comprehensive review of the United Kingdom’s draft Investigatory Powers bill, warning that if adopted in its present form it could threaten the rights to freedoms of expression and association both inside and outside the country.

The legislation, currently being examined by the Joint Parliamentary Committee, aims to unify the various regulations governing how UK surveillance agencies, police and other authorities can monitor suspects.

Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai, and Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Michel Forst expressed serious concerns about several provisions of the draft Bill.

They cited excessively broad definitions and disproportionate procedures to authorize surveillance, including mass surveillance, and data retention without adequate independent oversight and transparency.

“The lack of transparency could prevent individuals from ever knowing they are subject to such surveillance,” the experts noted in a six-page submission to the Parliamentary Committee. “This will ultimately stifle fundamental freedoms and exert a deterrent effect on the legitimate exercise of these rights and the work of civil society and human rights defenders.”

Stressing the potential for human rights violations, they called for a comprehensive review of the draft bill “to ensure its compliance with international human rights law and standards.”

UN rapporteurs, serving in an independent capacity, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, to whom they report back.

African Union–UN mission calls for restraint in West Darfur as tensions rise over recent violence

A landscape view of El Geneina town, the capital of West Darfur, Sudan. Photo: UNAMID/Hamid Abdulsalam

12 January 2016 – The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) expressed concern over continued tension in El Geneina town and around Mouli village, 15 kilometres south of El Geneina, West Darfur, after an armed attack on Mouli village.

“Receiving reports of continuous unrest and sporadic firing across El Geneina and in Mouli with an undetermined number of casualties, UNAMID calls on the government authorities to exert their utmost efforts to contain the situation and investigate the incidents,” the Mission said in a press statement issued yesterday.

Tensions developed on 9 January after an unidentified armed group attacked Mouli village. A large number of inhabitants were displaced to El Geneina, where the next day they demonstrated in front of the Wali’s office – leading to the closure of schools and commercial businesses in the town.

“UNAMID emphasises the importance of restraint by all parties and stands ready to assist the state authorities as well as the Darfuri people in their efforts to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the situation,” concluded the statement.

Five polio-free years in South-East Asia Region, announces UN health agency

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon administers a dose of a polio vaccine to a child brought by its mother to the United Nations complex in New Delhi, India. October 2008. UN Photo/Mark Garten

12 January 2016 – The UN’s health agency today announced that the South-East Asia Region has completed five years without any case of wild poliovirus, a highly infectious disease that invades the nervous system and for which there is still no cure.

“This is a remarkable achievement in view of the continued threat of poliovirus importation from the remaining polio-endemic countries,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, in a statement.

“Countries in the region have been making commendable efforts, stepping up vigilance against polio and continuing to protect children against the crippling virus,” he added, noting that the last case of wild poliovirus reported by WHO in the South-East Asia Region was in West Bengal, India, in 2011.

The UN agency is underlining that completing half a decade without any case of wild poliovirus is “yet another achievement” and a reminder that efforts need to continue until the disease is eradicated globally.

“We need to ensure that our efforts and investment over the years to eradicate polio do not go to waste,” warned Dr. Singh. “Globally, polio transmission is at its lowest ever levels. However, the risk of importation of the poliovirus into all polio-free areas persists.”

As part of the Polio End Game strategy, a long-term plan that addresses what is needed to deliver a polio-free world by 2018, countries in the region are accelerating the introduction of one dose of injectable inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) in childhood immunization schedules, along with plans for a globally synchronized, phased and sequential withdrawal of oral polio vaccines from the programme.

WHO says these strategies are aimed at addressing all polio – including the rare cases of vaccine derived polio.

“Our efforts to stop polio and now to keep the region polio-free, have been possible due to numerous innovative strategies that helped strengthen immunization and disease surveillance, and promote community ownership,” Dr. Singh explained.

“While these lessons learnt are now being adopted by the remaining endemic areas, countries in the region need to replicate these strategies and optimally use the polio programme resources for other public health goals, particularly in the areas of immunization, surveillance and emergency response.”

He added that a polio-free world “is in sight,” and that the international community must continue to make efforts to rid the world of the “crippling disease.”

WHO’s South-East Asia Region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.


Karl William


United Nations Section

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Robert Williams

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