Eleven-year-old Malian boy poses for a photograph on the street where he lives in Diabaly, Mali | Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA
Eleven-year-old Malian boy poses for a photograph on the street where he lives in Diabaly, Mali | Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) denounced in a statement that COVID-19 and conflicts in the Central Sahel region of Africa have forced over 12 million children there to leave school.

Twelve million children missed up to four months of school across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger due to COVID-19 restrictions, while 776,000 children were prevented from attending school the entire year due to insecurity, according to a statement by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

"Children are in the midst of a dual health and security threat in the Central Sahel," NRC said.

"All the 40,000 schools in the region were forced to close because of the pandemic, pushing students from pre-school to secondary levels out of class in an area where access to education is often already hampered by growing insecurity, repeated displacement and poverty," said Maureen Magee, Regional Director for NRC in Central and West Africa.

Lack of resources to prevent infections

NRC said as schools begin to reopen across the region, many lack the critical resources to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

In Niger, water and hygiene facilities in schools are far from adequate. Only 15% of some 18,000 schools in the country have water points, and less than one-third have toilets. In Burkina Faso, overcrowded schools made space for displaced children who fled violence, even though Covid-19 prevention measures require fewer students per classroom.

According to figures collated by NRC, the situation for students in conflict-affected schools in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger remains at a standstill. Over 4,000 schools remained closed for 776,000 students because of insecurity alone during 2019-2020 school year. This is almost twice as much as in 2018-2019.

Between January and July 2020, 90 attacks on education were reported in the Central Sahel.

Burkina Faso experienced the highest number of attacks with over 40 reported incidents, including arson, looting of schools, abduction, threats and killing of teachers.

Consequences of school absences

"Too many children whose lives are already devastated by conflict, now watch their future hang by a thread," said Magee.

NRC said out-of-school children are particularly at risk of sexual exploitation and violence. Cases of child marriage for female students have spiked over the past few years. The UN recorded 387 cases in Mali in 2020, compared to 178 two years previously. Male students also face grave protection risks.

Between January and June 2020, over 190 cases of enrolment by armed groups and forces in Mali were recorded.

 

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