For many months, Haiti, my country, has convulsed with social unrest that has all but brought life to a standstill. Caught in the chaos, which has spawned violent attacks on people and property and shuttered basic government functions, health care and commerce, are more than three million children who, since early September, have hardly been able to attend school.
Haitian parents, who bear the largest financial burden in our education system, cannot afford to allow their children to miss out on the opportunity to tap their full potential. The same goes for our international partners that support the government. Education is a human right that Haitian children are currently being denied.
Every hour of school they miss wreaks havoc on their personal development and their future economic and social prospects. As children remain idle, without the intellectual and physical nurturing they receive in school, they lose precious time to build a foundation of knowledge and skill that can lead them on a path of prosperity and stability.
Also, the longer they go without the supervision, structure and safety of a school, the more our children are at risk of neglect, of dropping out of school for good, and of falling victim to violence, caused by the unrest itself or assaults, especially toward girls. Especially in these difficult times, children need the safe haven of a school to bring normalcy and security to their lives.
It’s unfortunate that some public and private schools have been forced to keep their doors closed when they are trying to open. This is not just dangerous to children and to Haiti’s stability but is also a violation of basic rights. The Safe Schools Declaration, which Haiti has endorsed, also calls to ensure continuation of education for children during conflict.
Let’s remember that some of our schools that provide children with much-needed food, have had to stop the school feeding programs. A Global Partnership for Education-funded initiative, for example, had made it possible for more than 140,000 primary school children to receive a morning snack and hot meal at lunch time every day. In some regions these are the only meals that children receive. The closure of schools therefore endangers some of our children’s basic health.
As our children suffer from missing school, so, too, does Haiti as a whole. Education has always been at the center of parent’s long-time efforts to build a more just society and a more dynamic economy. The well-being of Haiti thus depends heavily on the availability of strong human capital. Education is the engine of any country’s human capital, and Haiti is no exception.
Haitians have for this reason long wanted to build a quality education system accessible to 100% of children. With the support from GPE and other international allies, ambitious goals to strengthen the education system were established so that all children can benefit.
We have, to be sure, struggled to deliver on these objectives and some children still remain unregistered in a school. The violence and unrest make it far more difficult to carry out this important work.
At this writing, the demonstrations across Haiti continue and seem to attract a growing number of people. Whatever the reasons of the demonstrations and the urgency for Haiti to strengthen its governance, there can be no doubt that it inflicts profound damage on millions of Haiti’s children, who are innocent victims. All parties must work together to allow children to at a minimum return immediately to the nurturing confines of their schools. Two months without schooling has already taken a considerable toll on their progress. The more learning time they lose, the more they – and all of Haiti – loses.