Peace education for children backs UN study on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education

ECPC Chair champions the transformative power of peace education for young children during a U.N. sponsored event on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the U.N. and the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs

A boy holds a sign that reads in Spanish “Children celebrate peace” during the celebration of the agreement between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, and Colombia’s government, in Bogota, Colombia, Thursday, June 23, 2016 (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

26 January 2022 | by Michael F. McCarthy

Disarmament and non-proliferation education

Background

On October 19, 2000, the Government of Mexico introduced a resolution entitled “United Nations study on disarmament and non-proliferation education” which was formally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 2000. The resolution was a novel approach toward addressing ways “to combat the negative effects of cultures of violence and complacency in the face of current dangers in the field through long-term programs of education and training” (Resolution 55/33).

The resolution called on the U.N. Secretary-General to develop a group of experts to better understand the state of disarmament and non-proliferation, how the United Nations and education institutions across all levels of schooling are teaching and training on these topics, develop and update pedogeological and technological tools and methods of teaching about disarmament, and to include disarmament and non-proliferation education in both conflict and post-conflict settings (Resolution 55/33).

Accordingly, this resolution, championed by the Government of Mexico, has helped disarmament and non-proliferation become a key pillar in peace education initiatives over the last two decades.

Disarmament and non-proliferation education: 20 years of the U.N. study and looking ahead

U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs and Permanent Mission of Mexico to the U.N. Event Poster (Infographic/UNODA)
U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs and Permanent Mission of Mexico to the U.N. Event Poster (Infographic/UNODA)

On December 7, 2021, the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) held a webinar with international experts and scholars in the field of disarmament and peace education. The purpose of this webinar was to discuss the success of the United Nations Study on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education across the last two decades, introduce ideas that can build on, sustain, and continue these achievements as well as explore ways to engage youth as agents for change in the peacebuilding process.

Distinguished speakers and associated speaking topics:

  • Ambassador Juan Manuel Gómez-Robledo, DPR at the Permanent Mission of Mexico. Topic: “Introduction and moderation”
  • High Representative for Disarmament, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA). Topic: “The relevance of education to disarmament and rate of contributions to the Secretary-General report”
  • Doctor William Potter, Director of the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies (CNS). Topic: “History and perspectives of the genesis of the U.N. Study”
  • Professor Mathew Bolton, Pace University. Topic: “Disarmament education, making it relevant to students”
  • Professor Zia Mian, Princeton University. Topic: “A broader perspective on disarmament education and the need for resources”
  • Dr. Rima Salah is Former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations; Chair of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC); Advisory Board Member of the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN); and is at the Child Study Center and the Departments of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology, Yale University. Topic: “The disarmament education experience”
U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs and Permanent Mission of Mexico to the U.N. Event Poster (Infographic/UNODA)
U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs and Permanent Mission of Mexico to the U.N. Event Poster (Infographic/UNODA)

The High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu led the discussion by detailing the urgent needs for peace. She explained that “Emerging security issues, geopolitical tensions, rapid technological development, and other challenges are re-shaping the disarmament landscape. Unless we can fully engage with all the varied stakeholders necessary, finding sustainable disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control solutions will be impossible.

Such engagement does not occur by accident and cannot be developed overnight. Enabling it requires significant commitments, resources, and coordination, not just from Member States and international organizations, but also from civil society and academia.”

Ms. Nakamitsu also argued “We must also remember that to address new challenges, we must reach out beyond traditional audiences for disarmament. Changing concepts of what security means or what constitutes a threat demands new thinking. Such new thinking will arise from those who are educated and trained today.”

It was also clear that disarmament and non-proliferation education must now address the adverse impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the teaching and learning processes across the world. Ms. Nakamitsu asserted “We must also be cautious in these times of virtual and hybrid classrooms and remote learning not to allow the digital divide and other obstacles to become permanent barriers to the access of educational materials and training opportunities.”

She continued “The pandemic is further deepening inequalities and creating risks of reversals, and these will have long-term impacts on education that need to be addressed now. As much as online platforms have helped to broaden our reach, there are many for whom stable internet access, power, or even just a quiet room in which to study are unattainable.”

She underlined “We must also remember that effective and accessible disarmament and non-proliferation education means providing resources and support to educators, as well as students, and tailoring our approaches to different environments and contexts.”

A culture of peace, early childhood development and learning, disarmament, and non-proliferation education, all go hand in hand

Let us empower every girl. Let us empower every boy. Let us empower their families and make peace education a reality. — Rima Salah, Ph.D.

Dr. Rima Salah, Chair of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC). (Photo NS Fallon)

Dr. Rima Salah, who spoke on behalf of CTAUN, the Yale Child Study Center, and the ECPC, introduced a fundamental concept and approach toward further developing disarmament and non-proliferation education: promoting a “Culture of Peace” by targeting young children. Dr. Salah opened her discussion session by declaring that “today’s most important assignment is teaching our children about a world made increasingly interdependent by globalization.” She argued that “Education is a powerful tool for change and for peace and to create global citizens who can communicate across cultures and build a world of peace.”

Through the power of education, Dr. Salah explained that it is the goal of the international community to promote a “Culture of Peace.” She noted that during the same year the United Nations General Assembly authorized the resolution on the U.N. Study on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education, the General Assembly also celebrated 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace (resolution 52/15). As disarmament and non-proliferation education began to pick up steam, so did the Culture of Peace as the General Assembly declared 2001–2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for Children of the World (resolution 53/25).

Further, Dr. Salah noted that Article 4 in the Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace (resolution 53/243) highlights the importance of education, which states, “Education at all levels is one of the principal means to build a culture of peace. In this context, human rights education is of particular importance.” Dr. Salah explains that a culture of peace and disarmament and non-proliferation education go hand in hand. Dr. Salah’s speech underscored the point that both approaches share a collective goal in promoting peace across generations using a common tool: education.

Building and sustaining peace through the transformative power of early childhood development

Families and children can be agents of change for a more peaceful world. Silhouette of parents holding hands with their young child as they walk through a field toward a bright sunset. (Photo/ by Alexey Logvinenko, pond5.com)
Silhouette of parents holding hands with their young child as they walk through a field toward a bright sunset. (Photo/ by Alexey Logvinenko, pond5.com)

Focusing on developing a Culture of Peace, however, is only one step toward building a more peaceful world. According to Dr. Salah, early childhood development and education also play a pivotal role in developing and sustaining peace. There is a “transformative power of early childhood development” in building more peaceful societies by curbing violence and promoting social justice, Dr. Salah argued. She stressed that “children and families can be agents of change.” She explained that “emerging and well-established scientific evidence from multiple disciplines from neuroscience…epigenetics…psychology…education and economics…continue to substantiate the link between the early years of life and the early environment with long term well-being, violence prevention, and behavior” all of which are “linked [to] building peaceful communities” (For further reading, see: Leckman et al., 2021; Economic benefits of early childhood development investments).

Today, more children than ever are living in conflict zones

Despite the importance of investing in our young children, Dr. Salah pointed out that generational violence that has plagued our world coupled with displacement and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated ongoing threats to our most vulnerable children. She explained that “today, we know that millions of children and their families find themselves trapped in situations of violent conflict” with “displacement disrupting the fabric of their societies” ultimately resulting in “more children than ever before liv[ing] in conflict zones.”

An Afghan woman displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan, holds her children as she waits for consultation outside a makeshift clinic at a sprawling settlement of mud-brick huts (Dec. 16, 2021). (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
An Afghan woman displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan, holds her children as she waits for consultation outside a makeshift clinic at a sprawling settlement of mud-brick huts (Dec. 16, 2021). (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

Dr. Salah quoted the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gambas, who asserted that “millions of boys and girls wake up every morning in communities affected by war with little or no access to the protection they need” and that ongoing displacement is preventing families from providing young children with “the protection and care they need.” Dr. Salah stressed the unfortunate reality our children currently live. She cited a press release, issued by UNICEF on December 3 2020 that reported, “There is an “unprecedented displacement of 82 million people” with UNICEF anticipating $6.4 billion in humanitarian aid for children, which Dr. Salah pointed out is “the largest appeal ever to assist more than hundred million” children.

UPDATE: Shortly following this event on December 7, 2021, UN News reported that UNICEF “…launched an appeal for a record $9.4 billion as attacks against children continue to rise.” And that, “Close to 24,000 grave violations against youngsters were confirmed last year, or 72 violations a day, according to the agency, in its largest ever appeal for funding”.

The task ahead — Uniting our strengths

Pudicherry, India | School children holding Prana mudra hand gestures. (Photo 150237614 © Catherinelprod Catherine | Dreamstime.com)
Pudicherry, India | School children holding Prana mudra hand gestures. (Photo 150237614 © Catherinelprod Catherine | Dreamstime.com)

Dr. Salah concluded her discussion session by making an impassioned plea to the audience, international leaders, and global citizens of this world. She acknowledged that “the task ahead is formidable, but each one of us is responsible. It is our shared responsibility…to unite our strengths, governments, policymakers, non-governmental organizations, community leaders, civil society, and academia to make peace education [and curricula] available for every girl and for every boy. Let us empower every girl. Let us empower every boy. Let us empower their families and make peace education a reality.”

About

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)

The Office for Disarmament Affairs supports multilateral efforts aimed at achieving the ultimate goal of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. The mandate for the programme is derived from the priorities established in relevant General Assembly resolutions and decisions in the field of disarmament, including the Final Document of the Tenth Special Session of the General Assembly, the first special session devoted to disarmament (resolution S-10/2). More.

Rima Salah, Ph.D.

Dr. Rima Salah has served as Former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Former Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the U.N. mission in Central African Republic and Chad, served on the United Nations High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.

She currently serves as Chair of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) and is at the Child Study Center and the Departments of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology, Yale University.

Dr. Salah is the recipient of the 2021 Peacemaker Award from the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution (CPCR) at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University.

Relevant information

Video

  1. Disarmament Explainer Videos. United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, (2022).

United Nations agencies

  1. Disarmament education. United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, (2022).
  2. United Nations study on disarmament and non-proliferation education. United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, (2022).
  3. Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education: 20 years of the UN study and looking ahead. Remarks by Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, (2021, Dec).
  4. UNICEF launches record emergency appeal as escalating conflicts push millions to the brink. UN News, (7 Dec 2021).

Peer-reviewed journal articles

  1. Love and peace across generations: Biobehavioral systems and global partnerships. Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology, (2021).
  2. Pathways to a more peaceful and sustainable world: The transformative power of children in families. Development and Psychopathology, (2021).
  3. The promise of parent-child education programs on improving parenting practices and reducing stress in conflict-exposed families. Yale School of Medicine News, (2020, April 30).

ECPC news and outputs

  1. COVID-19 and beyond: Hope and promise in the eyes of the child. Top experts advance a Global Call to Action at the G20 Civil Society (C20) Summit 2020 in response to the state of the world’s most vulnerable children during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, ECPC Medium, (2021, Feb).
  2. The ECPC Global Call to Action in Response to COVID-19 for Children in Fragile and Conflict-affected Settings. Early Childhood Development Consortium, (2020, June).
  3. Building The Culture of Peace: U.N. high-level forum calls for empowering and transforming humanity. Early Childhood Peace Consortium, (2019, December 17).

About the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

The ECPC is a global movement of United Nations agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, academia, practitioners, and the private sector focused on sharing scientific and practice-based evidence on how investment in early childhood development (ECD) can contribute to sustainable peace, social cohesion, and social justice. We recognize that investing in ECD is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for reducing violence, poverty, and exclusion and for building peaceful societies.

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Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

We can build a just and peaceful world where all children are the stars of today and leaders of tomorrow.