The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says a surge in deliberate attacks against teachers, students and schools is threatening education in West and Central Africa.
In a report titled ‘Child Alert’, UNICEF warned that the right to education “is being violated in communities hit by conflict” in the region.
The agency cited Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.
It said, “Right now, nearly two million children are being robbed of an education in the region due to violence and insecurity in and around their schools.
“A surge in threats and attacks against students, teachers and schools (in the above countries) is casting a foreboding shadow upon children, their families, their communities and society at large.
“Many areas in West and Central Africa are witnessing increased hostility towards education by warring factions.
“More than one quarter of the 742 verified attacks on schools globally in 2018 took place in five countries across West and Central Africa.”
UNICEF said that the number of schools compelled to close down due to rising insecurity in conflict-affected areas of the region tripled between the end of 2017 and June 2019.
Specifically, it stated that 9,272 schools closed across eight countries in the region as of June, affecting no fewer than 1.91 million children and nearly 44,000 teachers.
“Particularly in the countries of the Central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger) and the Lake Chad Basin (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria), ideological opposition to what is seen as Western-style education, especially for girls, – is central to many of these disputes.
“As a result, school children, teachers, administrators and the education infrastructure are being deliberately targeted.
“At the same time, worsening insecurity and conflict, including the use of schools by armed forces and groups, further disrupts a child’s access to and quality of education.
“When education is under attack safe schooling in the traditional sense becomes impossible to provide.
“The threat of attacks creates a sense of fear in local communities, forcing schools to close, teachers to flee and school children to remain at home, unable to learn in classrooms with their peers,” UNICEF said.
The agency further noted that out-of-school children were also not spared of dangers.
“Compared to their peers who are in school, they are at a much higher risk of recruitment by armed groups.
“Girls face an elevated risk of gender-based violence and are forced into child marriage more often, with ensuing early pregnancies and childbirth that threaten their lives and health,” it added.
UNICEF, which noted that this is happening 30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, urged governments to reaffirm their commitment to protecting education.
“Now more than ever, governments must reaffirm their commitment to protecting education from attack and providing the resources needed to help their youngest citizens to keep learning.
“Now is the time for renewed efforts to make sure the potential of a generation of young people is not wasted,” it said.