Suffer the little children

"Everyone, in theory subscribes to an international consensus that schools have only civilian and not military uses." - Gordon Brown. What will it take to move from theory to reality?

“Everyone, in theory subscribes to an international consensus that schools have only civilian and not military uses.” – Gordon Brown.
What will it take to move from theory to reality?

In yesterday’s Guardian newspaper (Monday 28th July 2014) former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote an article under the title Schools on the Frontline. Gordon Brown has always seemed to me to be a man with a strong social conscience. He has often spoken out and indeed chastised government bodies and other organisations on issues of poverty and has been a great supporter of humanitarian causes in Africa. Sadly, in an age of politics that is obsessed with image rather than substance, he was given a rough ride by the media in his role, as the Prime Minister who immediately followed Tony Blair, who by contrast didn’t lack charisma, despite having limited appeal in terms of either his intellectual capital or moral judgement. Perhaps Gordon Brown is a man out of time, but he has never been slow to stand up for those who are oppressed or on behalf of others fighting injustice.

In his eloquent piece in yesterday’s Guardian, Gordon Brown makes an impassioned plea for nations around the world to establish more rigorous guidelines and to take actions for the protection of children and schools in areas of conflict. Clearly disturbed, as many of us have been, by the horrific scenes of children killed or maimed, having taken shelter in what should have been the safe haven of schools in Gaza, Brown constructs an even-handed case for a cessation of the inhumane treatment of children in this devastated war zone. Making clear his view that both the Israeli government and the leaders of Hamas are complicit in this ever worsening war crime, he draws our attention to the irony that exists around the fact that this is the twenty fifth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that was enacted to ensure that the vulnerability of childhood was both recognised and protected.

In the Guardian article, the former Prime Minister cites the bombing of the United Nations school in Beit Hanoun in which women, children and neutral UN staff were killed, as an indication of the lack of moral judgement that surrounds this conflict. Israel has targeted schools which they believe to be harbouring armaments or shielding the entrance to tunnels used by Hamas to launch terror attacks on their State, this cannot have been done without the knowledge that innocent people, including children would die. Hamas, if indeed they have been using schools for militaristic purposes are equally culpable in the deaths of these innocents. In situations such as this it is clear that those leaders of the warring factions who attempt to take the moral high ground, are doing so in the knowledge that they are prepared to take whatever despicable actions they see fit in order to pursue their cause.

Gordon Brown’s article whilst balanced in its synopsis of an evil situation contains some strong statements that should be heeded by all who are concerned. He states his belief that:-

“Schools are not only essential to the delivery of opportunity and sustainable development; it is important that even in the darkest of conflicts, children see their schools as sanctuaries, as places of normality and safety. But there is another reason: in times of war, people need material help – food, shelter, healthcare. But they, especially young people, also need hope. It is through education that we do most to communicate the idea that we are planning ahead for a time free of conflict.”

Schools in this passage are seen as a place of hope. Gordon Brown perceives that they can be powerful institutions for the creation of sanctuary and for instilling a sense of values and justice in the minds of children. Education can be a mighty force for democracy, for enabling children to understand the world in which they live and to develop a sense of responsibility for taking it forward in the future. Yet I cannot help feeling when I see the television images from Gaza, and hear the platitudes and cowardly expressions of the politicians on both sides of this conflict, that they lack the capacity or the courage to ensure that children can be educated in this way.

I imagine that today in Gaza there are children whose view of school is significantly changed from what it may have been a month ago. It is distressing to think that many of these children are possibly now seeing school as a place of danger, somewhere they no longer wish to be, a place to fear. Equally disturbing is the fact that many of these children will grow up to hate those who have killed or maimed their friends and families, and that some of these innocents, who are now to have their childhood stolen from them, will be eager to seek revenge and thus perpetuate a situation that has existed in this region for far too long.

The article in the Guardian is only one amongst many that have been published across the media in recent days. Gordon Brown in presenting his case urges not only those with political power, but all responsible adults to stand up and voice their anxieties about this situation, and others across the world where children are being used and targeted in conflict. He draws our attention to the work of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, an organisation desperately trying to achieve some order out of chaos. But I can’t help wondering if the voices of rational people will simply fade and disappear.

To see for yourself the extent to which children have become victims and are abused by conflict across the world watch the video to which I have posted a link below. Scroll down the linked page to find the video.