A photograph captured in 2003 shows a child soldier in Bunia, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
- Since 2019, approximately 13,200 schools have been closed across eight central and west African countries.
- This has negatively impacted the education of at least 2.5 million children.
- Burkina Faso alone accounts for nearly 50% of all school closures.
An aid group has issued a warning, stating that the future of entire generations of children in central and west Africa is in jeopardy. Urgent action is required from governments and other critical stakeholders to ensure these children can return to school. According to a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Burkina Faso is facing an especially severe crisis, with nearly 50% of schools in the region closed due to insecurity.
The NRC reported that armed non-state groups have targeted schools, resulting in 147 incidents from January to August 2023. Additionally, schools have been left vacant due to forced population transfers or when families and teachers flee areas of unrest.
This situation not only affects children who are now unable to attend school but also places a significant burden on host communities where schools remain open but overcrowded. Furthermore, it puts children who have been forcibly displaced at risk of losing access to education.
The NRC revealed that a total of 13,200 schools have been closed in the two African regions over the past four years. This grave situation directly undermines the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The education of 2.5 million children is now under direct threat.
To prevent further deterioration and enable reconstruction, the NRC calls on all stakeholders involved in armed conflicts to ensure schools are not transformed into war zones or military bases.
The NRC stated, “Governments, armed forces, other conflict parties, and the international community must collectively act to cease attacks and threats against schools, students, and teachers. They should also provide sustainable support to ensure quality education for every child in the region.”
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In Sudan, which is currently experiencing its sixth month of escalating conflict, a report by Reuters highlights that the “war has resulted in the collapse of the education sector”.
Aid agencies in both central and west Africa have called for funding to address the education crisis, but only 3.9% of the requested funding for education had been granted by early September. In comparison, the region’s overall humanitarian sector managed a 30.5% response rate for funding requests in September.
Hassane Hamadou, the NRC’s regional director for central and West Africa, expressed concern that children forced out of school may resort to joining armed groups, engaging in forced labor, or becoming victims of sexual exploitation. He stated, “Many will be compelled to work, join armed groups, or get married, effectively destroying their futures.”
In 2015, 180 countries signed the safe school declaration, an intergovernmental political agreement that emphasizes the importance of continuing education during armed conflict. It also addresses the need to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities from attacks and prevents the military use of educational institutions.
As it is a binding agreement, the NRC urges all parties engaged in conflicts to uphold their commitments. Hamadou emphasized, “The signatory states of the safe school declaration must do everything possible to ensure its implementation and secure a better future for children.”
The central part of the Sahel region, with Burkina Faso being the most affected, has seen the closure of 6,100 out of the 9,000 schools that have shut down. The onset of coups has further destabilized these countries, making the fight against violent extremism an increasingly challenging task.
Xavier Creach, the deputy director of the UNHCR’s regional bureau for west and central Africa, stated, “In a region where the security and access to basic services for civilians are increasingly threatened by conflict and insecurity, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that schools remain safe environments for all forcibly displaced children, as well as those from host communities.”