Humanitarian and Development Response

Vulnerable children in protracted displacement need education

By Toluwalola Kasali

Children are major victims of conflict. Forty percent of the world’s 79.5 million forcibly displaced persons are children under the age of 18 who face unexpected disruptions to their lives and education. During crises and displacement, children are at risk of exploitation and abuse, especially when they are orphaned or separated from their parents. 

Providing safe spaces for children to express themselves, participate in learning activities, and grow, gives them emotional support and stability. Education empowers them and reduces vulnerabilities to exploitation, violence, child marriage, child labour, and recruitment by armed groups. 

Despite the difficulties faced by children living in displacement, they have not given up on their dreams. They hope to become lawyers, doctors, presidents, general mechanics, carpenters, electricians, and fashion designers, amongst others. Like many other children around the world, their dreams are valid. Education gives children the tools to realise their dreams and access to opportunities. It increases their hope for a better future. However, that hope is gradually eroded when they cannot envision a future outside the four walls of their camp or host community. 

Based on the universal declaration of human rights, everyone has the right to education – this includes forcibly displaced persons. Therefore, a combination of formal, non-formal, and vocational learning programmes such as classroom learning, community-based programmes for children, focus group discussions, mentorship, and vocational skills training should be prioritised in providing humanitarian and development support. 

To achieve improved outcomes, interventions should not ignore the interdependencies between providing nutrition, healthcare (physical and psychosocial support), and education – improving a child’s nutrition, feeding, health, and overall well-being, has a positive impact on development and learning.

While education has clear benefits, there is often an opportunity cost to parents or guardians living in displacement because children often have to help out with errands or go out to earn money. Decisions to allow children to learn are also affected by personal beliefs, language barriers, social and cultural factors. Overcoming such constraints requires a combination of advocacy through trusted camp leaders, information sessions, conditional cash transfer programmes to incentivise enrolment and maintain attendance and other flexible forms of support. These measures should be supported by marketable skills and job programmes to assist households in transitioning into livelihood activities that promote productivity and self-reliance. 

 As crises become increasingly protracted, short-term educational provisions become insufficient. The needs of displaced children should be integrated into National Policy Frameworks, National Education Plans, and Social Safety Net Programmes. Successful implementation would require budgetary support, improved governance structures, increased funding commitment from international partners, basic social infrastructure, trained and highly committed teachers, and strong political will. 

The perspective of displaced persons should not be overlooked in gathering evidence for decision making. Policymakers can use relevant evidence to base interventions on what has been proven to work in displacement situations. Interventions should be tailored to the context of a particular country and local settings to achieve impact. 

In the long-term, access to education for displaced children will create positive externalities, support long-term productivity, and inclusive economic growth.