Sakinatu, Nafisa and Morinatu are three students at the Lycée Nelson Mandela, an all-female high school in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou. These bright young women have probably seen more hardship in their short lives than most of us can imagine. They come from poor families who can barely afford to send them to school — a daily journey which is long and unsafe. They have also seen how poverty has driven some of their former classmates to early marriage and even prostitution.
These three girls are not alone. Every single day, all over the world, girls face physical, psychological and sexual violence and harassment on their way to school – and, too often, in school – by men, peers and even teachers. While girls are disproportionally affected, boys also experience sexual violence, corporal punishment in the classroom, and bullying and harassment by fellow students.
And thousands of children are left traumatized when their schools are attacked by militant groups. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 12,000 students and teachers were harmed in more than 12,700 attacks on education in more than 70 countries.
Each case represents a shocking failure of basic morality, when innocent people are targeted by parties to conflict.
It is a sad truth that schools are not the safe space they should be and that we all want them to be.
Children themselves are sounding the alarm. In a recent UNICEF poll of young people, which received more than 1 million responses from over 160 countries, two out of three respondents said they had felt afraid of violence in and around their school.
This is unacceptable.