When she was eleven, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai spoke out against the Taliban’s effort to deny girls education. When she was fourteen, in response to her courage, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head and neck. Now sixteen she continues her activism, and this week she traveled to Jordan to draw attention to educational needs of Syrian refugee children.
When Human Rights First visited Jordan in November, refugees and aid workers told us about the difficulty and urgency of providing education to Syrian children. Despite the generosity of the Jordanian government, which has opened its schools to Syrian refugees and even moved to a double shift (or in some cases triple shift) schedule to accommodate the increased number of students, serious impediments remain.
Many families can’t pay the fees for books and supplies, while others can’t afford transportation and school uniforms. With adults prohibited from working and savings quickly vanishing, parents often rely on their children to earn enough to meet the family’s necessities. Many children, particularly in Zaatari, say that harassment and abuse on the way to and from school discourage them from attending. Others face bullying at school from classmates and even teachers. Some parents report being turned away by principals (in violation of Jordan’s official policy) when they sought to enroll their children.
Assistant Secretary Anne Richard has spoken often of the need to ensure that child refugees today receive the education they need to rebuild their country in the years to come, and the United States has generously supported the “No Lost Generation” initiative launched by UNICEF, UNHCR, World Vision, and Save the Children, among others. The recently announced partnership between Save the Children and the Malala Fund brings this critical issue to the forefront.
Malala has made it her mission to ensure that children have access to the education that she fought for in Pakistan. The children of Syria deserve the same opportunity.