An entire generation of children globally have had their education disrupted due to the pandemic. Children who have been forced to flee their homes are at most risk. Ten reasons why we should support displaced children’s right to education:
1 – This emergency comes on top of an existing learning crisis
Even before the Covid-19 school closures, more than 75 million children across the world’s crisis and conflict-affected countries urgently required support to access a good quality education.
Refugee children were twice as likely to be out of school as other children. Despite improvements in refugee enrolment rates, only 63 per cent of refugees were enrolled in primary school and 24 per cent in secondary education.
2 – Displaced children risk falling behind even further
Children and young people who have been forced to flee their homes have often missed out on years of education already, due to war and conflict. Recent school closures due to Covid-19 will make them fall behind even further unless they get help. The pandemic risks creating a backslide in the small gains previously made, and creating a disaster for displaced children.
3 – Girls risk never returning to school
Girls in displaced settings are particularly affected. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that two out of ten refugee girls who are in secondary school are at significant risk of never returning to school following the Covid-19 school closures. We must act now to address the inequality and dire situation facing refugee learners.
4 – Child poverty will increase
Alongside school closures, the physical distancing measures being implemented are having a significant impact on employment, putting a strain on family finances and the economy. This is likely to increase child poverty among the millions of children living in vulnerable communities all over the world. Save the Children suggests that up to 9.7 million children are at risk of dropping out of school due to rising levels of child poverty. Displaced children are at most risk.
5 – Early marriage is more likely
As a result of the economic strain faced by vulnerable families, there is a risk that many children will not return to school because they have been forced into an early marriage. With increased pressure on household budgets and ongoing school closures, parents may decide their young daughters should marry. This may be more likely in contexts where marriage results in dowry payments or where girls are at risk of sexual exploitation, including in exchange for food, money, or shelter.
6 – Children will be forced to work
There is also a risk that children will be forced into child labour to help their families make ends meet. Some of those at most risk are displaced children. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) the economic and social crisis will hit children particularly hard. An estimated 42–66 million children could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis this year, adding to the estimated 386 million children already in extreme poverty in 2019.
7 – Health services and support systems will be lost
The impact of school closures extends beyond disruption to children’s learning and carries other major risks to the most marginalised children, including refugees and those displaced within their own country. These children and young people rely on schools to access services such as health services (including deworming and malaria treatment), menstrual hygiene kits, child protection services; specialist support for children with disabilities, and mental health support.
8 – Children will be traumatised
The Covid-19 virus is not only attacking our physical health, it is also increasing stress and suffering. Among the most vulnerable are refugees and internally displaced people, asylum-seekers and stateless people. Many of them do not know if they can feed their children and pay the rent. They may have been worried about their uncertain legal status, and may already have been through traumatic experiences during their flight. Schools offer a support network for many students and some organisations even offers special programmes to help children deal with their traumas.
9 – Children are going hungry
The meals and snacks provided at school are often a lifeline for the most vulnerable children, keeping them free from hunger, as well as ensuring they have the energy to fulfil their potential at school. The World Food Programme estimates that 352 million children globally are missing out on school meals because of Covid-19 school closures.
10 – Discrimination is a growing threat and global aid is declining
In recent years significant efforts have been made towards the inclusion of refugee learners in national education systems. However, barriers to education persist and could potentially worsen due to the pandemic. There is also the worrying possibility that discrimination and xenophobia directed at refugee populations will increase, negatively affecting school enrolment and retention.