Dakar. - Violence and attacks against civilian populations in northeastern Nigeria and its neighboring countries have forced more than 1 million children out of school, UNICEF said Tuesday. The number of children missing out on their education due to the conflict adds to the estimated 11 million children of primary school age who were already out of school in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger before the onset of the crisis.
"It’s a staggering number," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s West and Central Africa Regional Director. "The conflict has been a huge blow for education in the region, and violence has kept many children out of the classroom for more than a year, putting them at risk of dropping out of school altogether."
Across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, over 2,000 schools remain closed due to the conflict - some of them for more than a year - and hundreds have been attacked, looted or set on fire. In far north Cameroon, only 1 out of the 135 schools closed in 2014 has re-opened this year.
In northeastern Nigeria UNICEF has supported 170,000 children back into education in the safer areas of the three states most affected by the conflict, where the majority of schools have been able to re-open. However, many classrooms are severely overcrowded as some school buildings are still being used to house the large numbers of displaced persons seeking shelter from the conflict. In these areas, some displaced teachers, who themselves have fled the fighting, are involved in the schooling and classes are often given on a "double shift" basis to help more children attend school.
In other areas, however, insecurity, fear of violence and attacks are preventing many teachers from resuming classes and discouraging parents from sending their children back to school. In Nigeria alone, approximately 600 teachers have been killed since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency.
"The challenge we face is to keep children safe without interrupting their schooling," said Fontaine. "Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom; yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups."
Together with governments, NGOs and other partners, UNICEF has set up temporary learning spaces, renovated and expanded schools, reaching 67,000 children. In addition, UNICEF has trained teachers on psychosocial support and provided more than 132,000 children uprooted by conflict with learning materials, including in local schools hosting displaced students.
However, security constraints and funding shortfalls hinder access to education services and the delivery of emergency learning materials. So far, UNICEF has received 44 per cent of the funding required in 2015 to respond to the humanitarian needs of children in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad.
In 2016, UNICEF will need nearly US$23 million to provide access to education for children affected by conflicts in the four countries, most of whom live around the Lake Chad region.