Violence in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring countries targeted by Boko Haram has forced more than one million children out of school, leaving them prey to abuse, abduction and recruitment by armed groups, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
More than 2,000 schools in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger remain closed due to the conflict and hundreds have been looted, damaged or destroyed, said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.
While hundreds of schools in northeast Nigeria have reopened in recent months, insecurity and fear of violence are preventing many teachers from resuming classes and discouraging parents from sending their children back to school, according to UNICEF.
Boko Haram is mostly based in northeast Nigeria but the militant group has this year intensified its campaign, setting up camps and launching attacks in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger in its drive to carve out an Islamist caliphate.
“Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom,” UNICEF’s West and Central Africa regional director Manuel Fontaine said in a statement.
“Yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups.”
More than 400 schools have reopened since October in Nigeria’s Borno state, birthplace of the six-year insurgency waged by Boko Haram, more than 18 months after education was halted in the wake of an attack on a school in neighbouring Yobe state which killed 59 students.
Yet in Cameroon’s Far North region, which has been struck by a string of suicide bombings in recent months, blamed on Boko Haram and often carried out by young women, only one school out of the 135 closed in 2014 has reopened this year, UNICEF said.