An increase of violence and conflict in the West African nations of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger is putting the nations' children in increasingly vulnerable situations.
More than 8 million children have been forced out of school due to constant attacks by Islamic militant groups in the Sahel region, and over 670,000 have been displaced from their homes.
The severity of the crisis in the tri-border community has spiked significantly within recent years, causing nearly 3,300 schools to close down between April 2017 and December 2019, according to a UNICEF report published on Tuesday. Furthermore, at least 20 direct attacks against students and teachers were reported as of October 2019.
“When you go to school you see that there is a possibility of a different way — you hope that you can be someone, but now these children do not have normal lives,” UNICEF representative Anne Vincent told CNN.
In addition to being forced to leave school, children have been mutilated, abused, and even killed, while insecurity in the region has increased levels of malnutrition and obstructed access to clean water and sanitation. In 2019, around 571 violations against children were reported in Mali.
Without access to education and social services, children run the risk of being recruited by the very militant groups tearing their countries apart.
While militant attacks have previously been more prevalent in Libya and Nigeria in recent years, devolving security in the region has turned what was once a buffer zone into a hotbed of conflict.
“The security incidents have become worse and worse. You can now say that a third of the country has major security issues. This is a big change,” Vincent said.
The conflict has grown so rapidly within the last few years, it has set the region back by nearly a decade.
Violence is now viewed as a threat to national security in the region, especially with the growing fear that militant groups will soon move on to terrorize neighboring West African nations.
Despite military support from the US and France, the situation has only escalated. Climate change and population growth have also contributed to the ongoing conflict by making an already insecure region more vulnerable to food shortages and natural disasters, which does not foretell a promising future for children’s education in the region.
“If they're not going to school in 10 years' time, we'll see how an entire generation was sacrificed because they weren't able to learn,” Laurent Dabiré, a bishop in northern Burkina Faso, told CNN. “It won't be just them who suffers. It will be everyone.”