Attacks on Schools and Hospitals

Schools and hospitals must be zones of peace, where children are granted protection even in times of conflict. Yet, there is an increasing trend of schools and hospitals being attacked with detrimental effects on children.

Direct impact of conflict

Apart from the direct and physical damage to schools and hospitals, conflict can result in the forced closure or the disrupted functioning of these institutions. Children, teachers, doctors and nurses are also subject to threats by parties to conflict if suspected, for example, to support the other party to the conflict. Also of great concern is the use of schools for military purposes, as recruitment grounds and polling stations.

Indirect impact of conflict

Some armed groups are opposed to secular and girls’ education, or to girls being treated by male medical personnel and subsequently hamper access to these services. A general climate of insecurity as a result of conflict also prevents children, teachers and medical personnel from attending school or seeking medical assistance. Parents, for example, may find it too risky to send their children to school in a volatile security situation, or children may be denied timely access to hospitals because of checkpoints and roadblocks.

Prohibition under International Law

Under international humanitarian law, both schools and hospitals are protected civilian objects, and therefore benefit from the humanitarian principles of distinction and proportionality. Direct physical attacks and the closure of these institutions as a result of direct threats have since 2011 been added as triggers for inclusion on the list of the Secretary-General of parties to conflict committing grave violations against children in armed conflict.