Canada urged to help millions denied school in war-torn nations (Canada)

At least 39 million children in war-torn and conflict-ridden countries are denied access to a basic education - a problem Canada must tackle, according to a report by an international children's rights agency.


The report, by Save the Children and released in Canada Monday, said countries like Canada are donating far too little money for education programs in countries hit by conflict.

Of all the assistance Canada gave to such countries between 2003 and 2005, only four per cent went toward education, the report said.

By comparison, when Canada donates to low-income countries that are not affected by war or conflict, it spends 31 per cent on education programs.

David Morley, president of Save the Children Canada, said education is crucial to countries affected by violence and war.

"Education is the key to rebuilding these societies," Morley told CBC News Online. "It's the first thing that drops when war comes, but it shouldn't be the last thing to come back."

Morley said while health care, housing and security programs address people's immediate needs, education is a need that arises quickly and is required over the long term.

Difficult to set up schools

The report found that providing a basic primary school education to children teaches them life-saving lessons, like landmine awareness and HIV/AIDS protection.

It also increases children's resistance to recruitment as child soldiers or child prostitutes.

Over the long term, it improves a child's chance of escaping poverty, which, in turn, increases the country's overall economic growth, the report said. Education is also a key to bringing peace to the country.

"It's hard to get political stability when you have a largely uneducated population," Morley said. "It's the key to building a peaceful and sustainable society. It's a humanitarian gesture, but it's in all of our best interest.

The report noted it's not easy to set up a school or teaching program in a country where schools may have been destroyed, teachers may have been killed and students may have been recruited as soldiers.

"It is difficult, there's no question it's difficult," Morley said. "To actually build up a school and start teaching is hard. It's a long-term project that needs a longer commitment. You can't go in and say, 'Great, it's fixed in six months.'"

Trust is another issue. Donors hesitate to give to war-torn countries, where they fear governments may be corrupt and may misuse the money given for education.

"That's a bit hypocritical," Morley said. "We are willing to put money into other government structures, for things like security, but for some reason we say we do not trust the government with education."

G8 goal of education for all by 2015

The report said that the G8 summit in the United Kingdom in 2005, which included Canada, set a goal of giving all children in the world access to a primary school education by 2015.

To reach this goal, the Save the Children report said countries will need to give an extra $9 billion US to the education cause.

The report noted there are 77 million primary-age children worldwide who are not in school. More than half - 39 million - are in conflict-riddled countries.

The report made recommendations for all donating countries. For Canada, it asked that:

- The Canadian government ensure half of all new education funding go to conflict-affected states.
- The federal government spend the same percentage on education in conflict-affected countries as it does in low-income countries.
- In emergency situations (like floods and earthquakes), Canada should spend 4.2 per cent of its funding on education, instead of the current 2.7 per cent.

Waiting for Ottawa

Morley said the Canadian government has acknowledged the problems outlined in the report, but has not yet said if it will accept the recommendations.

Save the Children, which began in England in 1919, is a children's rights organization that tackles problems like child trafficking, HIV/AIDS and child labour.

In light of the report, Save the Children has pledged to help 3 million children in conflict-affected countries access a primary school education by 2011.

The organization staggered the release of its report, releasing it first in Europe last Thursday.

Von: 17.04.2007

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