“A generation of children risk being denied the right to learn,” UNICEF has warned in a new report detailing the effects of violence across West and Central Africa.
A surge in “deliberate attacks” against students, teachers, and schools in the regions have led to a tripling in school closures in the last year and “left almost two million children robbed of an education,” the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.
“With more than 40 million 6 to 14-year-old children already missing out on their right to education in West and Central Africa, it is crucial that governments and their partners work to diversify available options for quality education,” said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier.
Many areas in West and Central Africa are witnessing increased hostility towards education by warring factions, with more than one quarter of the 742 verified attacks on schools globally in 2018 taking place in five countries across West and Central Africa.
“It is important to highlight those challenges, to highlight the struggle of those people. They need us, they need our attention,” Muzoon Almellehan, UNICEF’s youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador, told journalists in Geneva.
As of June 2019, 9,272 schools closed across eight countries in the region, affecting more than 1.91 million children and nearly 44,000 teachers.
UNICEF data (to June 2019) indicates that over 9000 schools have been closed in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria as a result of insecurity – three times the number at the end of 2017.
“Over the past two years, the number of schools that have been shut down has tripled; over 9,000 schools due to the insecurity have been attacked,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.
The UNICEF report noted how increased insecurity across north-west and south-west Cameroon has left more than 4,400 schools forcibly closed.
In Burkina Faso, more than 2,000 schools are shut, along with more than 900 in Mali.
In the central Sahel region, the figures are more disturbing. Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have witnessed a six-fold increase in school closures as a result of attacks and threats of violence in just over two years, from 512 in April 2017, to more than 3,000 by June this year.
Some 1000 school remain shut in the four countries affected by the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin – Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.
Almellehan, back from visiting a camp for people displaced by violence in central Mali said it’s a tragedy that children are being denied a future, and something she takes personally.
“I had to flee my homeland in Syria in 2013 and I also had to live in refugee camps,” she explained.
“It wasn’t easy for me and also I can feel like those children who can’t go to school, because education is something really, really important to me, myself.”
Almellehan pointedly said: “One direct result of children not getting an education is that they are more vulnerable to recruitment by extremists or abuse at their hands such as forced marriage.
In a broader context, the lack of schooling “is casting a foreboding shadow upon children, their families, their communities and society at large,” UNICEF said.
The UN agency said it’s working with education authorities and communities to support alternative learning opportunities including community learning centers, radio school programs, technology for teaching and learning, and faith-based learning initiatives.
It is also providing tools for teachers who work in dangerous locations, and psychosocial support and care for schoolchildren emotionally scarred by violence.
“Now more than ever, governments must reaffirm their commitment to education and protect spending on education for their youngest citizens,” the UNICEF report emphasized.
“Now is the time for renewed efforts to make sure the potential of a generation of young people is not wasted,” it further underlined.
Children in conflict-affected areas of West and Central Africa account for 1 in 4 children globally who need humanitarian support – including education and other services critical to learning.
Yet, as of 5 August there is a funding gap of 72 percent of the $221 million to provide humanitarian assistance in education for these children.