Fear of violence is preventing parents from sending their children to school and teachers from showing up to work in North-West and South-West Cameroon.
Due to three years of attacks and instability within the West African country, more than 855,000 children remain out of school in the regions, UNICEF reported on Tuesday. Without urgent action and greater commitments from everyone involved in the conflict to protect education, these children’s futures are at risk, the agency warned.
“Thousands of children in Cameroon are living in fear,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. “They need peace so that they can resume their education and reclaim their future.”
When children miss school they become vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups, child marriage, early pregnancy, and other forms of exploitation and abuse, she explained.
More than 4,100 public primary schools –– roughly 90% –– and 744 public secondary schools, –– roughly 77% –– remain closed or non-operational in the North-West and South-West regions.
Almost 150,000 of these children have been displaced from their homes by conflict.
855,000 children are out of school in Cameroon due to violence.— UN Geneva (@UNGeneva) November 5, 2019
.@UNICEF and @UNOCHA spox brief the press on deteriorating humanitarian situation in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon.https://t.co/xixpCqTOeypic.twitter.com/0sGDds9IjD
An armed militia kidnapped 78 school children in November 2018, and three schoolgirls were kidnapped just last month, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Read More: Armed Militia Kidnaps 78 Young Students in Cameroon
The separatist militia that goes by the name “Amba” has been active in the areas since 2017. Separatists target students and educators in these regions because they don’t approve of the school system’s limited English use. The groups are made up of members of Cameroon’s English-speaking minority, who are 20% of the population and feel marginalized in the predominantly French-speaking country, according to the BBC. Amba groups have been fighting for the independence of Cameroon’s North-West and South-West regions and want to create a new region called Ambazonia.
UNICEF has launched community-run learning activities to ensure that children in Cameroon can keep learning despite the circumstances. The agency is collecting books and other learning materials for 37,000 school-aged children. They will also provide teacher training and hand out literacy and math lessons by radio as part of a nine-month program for children who can’t leave home.
“Education must remain above politics,” Fore said. “We cannot lose any more time. If we fail to act now we run the risk of having a lost generation of young people, rather than an engaged and informed youth who can help rebuild their communities.”