Barriers and Bridges: Access to Education for Internally Displaced Children

January 11, 2005

Of the more than 27 million children estimated to lack access to education in emergency situations, substantial numbers are internally displaced.1 For these children not only is their educational development denied but they are deprived of other important benefits as well. Going to school is known to provide a degree of stability and normalcy in the traumatized lives of internally displaced children, and can be a critical source of psychosocial support. It can help to reduce children’s exposure to threats including sexual exploitation, physical attack and military recruitment. Classrooms can also be effective forums for conveying life-saving information about other risks including landmines and HIV/AIDS. Moreover, access to education is an important element of internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) integration into the local community where they are displaced, as well as when they return to their home areas or resettle elsewhere.

In line with established international human rights law, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement underscore the responsibility of national authorities to ensure that IDPs receive free and compulsory education at the primary level. In addition, the Principles urge authorities to make educational and training facilities available to the internally displaced, including adolescents and women, whether or not living in camps, as soon as conditions permit.

Too often, however, education is treated as a secondary need, to be addressed only once conflicts have subsided. Yet, conflicts and emergencies can go on for years or even decades, leaving many IDP children to grow up without education as well as deprived of the protection and support that going to school can provide. Much greater attention therefore needs to be paid to understanding and overcoming the barriers that IDPs so frequently face in accessing their right to education.