LONDON -- Europe is once again divided between East and West -- only this time the fault line runs through the European Union. The eastern members -- most notably Poland and the Baltic states -- are clinging fast to the EU in the face of Russian aggression. At the other geographic and political extreme, the United Kingdom is threatening to walk out on Europe for good. Decisions being taken today on Europe's eastern and western peripheries are likely to shape a new balance of power.
While no human rights treaty is more widely ratified than the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and while governments are required to report on their compliance on children's rights once every five years, little is done in practice to end the violation of children's rights. It is time for an International Children's Court.
As columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote: "They know that illiteracy, ignorance and oppression of women create the petri dish in which extremism can flourish." Not always. The young men are not just graduates of the infamous madrassas, some of which are in Syria, Pakistan, and Nigeria and teach a narrow version of the Koran and not much else. Still, the lack of educational opportunities around the world, where 58 million children are not in school and 10 million child brides are married off each year, contribute to the appeal of radicals. It is hard to oppose judicious airstrikes in the short-term. But helping refugees, particularly the three million Syrians in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, get proper schooling is vital. Otherwise the bombs will reign for decades.
The 20th century challenge was for Scotland to maintain its cultural identity while at the same time cooperating with the four nations of the U.K.. Now the challenge is even greater: to uphold cultural traditions and national identities in a world where there are no such things as nation-only solutions. By answering those who claim that independence can make a difference with policies that show interdependence can make the difference, Scotland can show the way forward by thinking big and not small.
The Safe Schools Initiative, a fund set up to pilot 500 safe schools in northern Nigeria and led by Nduka Obaigbena, brings the Nigerian government and Nigerian business leaders together with the international community to ensure that all children are secure when learning. The fund total currently stands at $23 million. Ultimately, young people will demonstrate because they see the connection between abductions in Nigeria, the rapes and murders of young girls in India, the so-called "honor killings" of Pakistani girls who marry against family wishes, the genital mutilation of girls in preparation for child marriages across Africa and the ever-present reality that 7 million school-aged girls are working full time, often in slave labour conditions, many of them trafficked out of their home country when they should be at school.
Schools should be safe havens for children and places for learning and should never become theaters of war. At the UN in September, there will be pressure on every country to adopt military guidelines that include rules of engagement preventing schools -- like hospitals -- from being militarized or used as instruments for waging war in conflicts or civil wars. But the need is now urgent and immediate.
Ten days ago, I met with President Goodluck Jonathan in Paris and we agreed that the families of the kidnapped girls had a right to know now that, if and when the girls are released, they will be able to have a safe school where they can study. And millions of Nigerian boys and girls who go to school in fear of another Boko Haram attack now also desperately need the reassurance that everything is being done to make their schools safe. So this week, a Safe Schools Initiative has been launched by the Nigerian Government and international aid agencies with the aim of making schools more secure for Nigerian children and to help end a situation where 10.5 million Nigerian girls and boys do not go to school.
The Boko Haram pattern of behavior makes it all the more important that the safe schools initiative launched by Nigerian business leaders last week gets off the ground quickly. While Boko Haram are a small extremist faction with limited demographic reach, it will take a tougher approach to school security and safety to reassure girls' parents and teachers that their school in the northern states is safe enough to attend. That is why foreign governments are now offering financial support for security guards and for proper fortifications and security equipment to give any school threatened by a terrorist attack the best possible chance of surviving it intact.
The world must wake up to an escalating tragedy now engulfing Nigeria. Today the lives of 230 teenage schoolgirls hang in the balance. We cannot stop terrorism overnight, but we can make sure that its perpetrators are aware that murdering and abducting schoolchildren is a heinous crime that the international authorities are determined to punish.
A year ago when the planned military intervention was called off, both opponents and proponents of military action dutifully pledged that they would show greater urgency in providing for the victims. But the minute military action was off the agenda, the pressures to provide aid diminished and the public interest in delivering emergency humanitarian action dimmed.
The education challenges in Nigeria are real and many. There is a teacher shortage of nearly 1.3 million, basic infrastructure is lacking and there is a shortfall of up to 1.2 million classrooms. There are fewer children in school each year due to child marriages and gender and religious biases and education is simply too costly for the poor.
Many people live huddled in tents, makeshift huts and overcrowded tenement buildings. They lack clothing and proper shelter, clean water and sanitation. There is also a great risk of epidemics of waterborne diseases, measles and tuberculosis spreading. But in addition to shelter, food and medicine, children need something else. They need hope. And it is the offer of education that can demonstrate to young people that it is worth planning for the future.