Recent insecurity has forced more than 300 schools to close in Niger, affecting over 22,000 children, UNICEF said Thursday.
In a statement to mark International Day to Protect Education from Attack, UNICEF said threats to school security were particularly acute in Tillabery, Tahoua and Diffa.
Access to schools in the regions is restricted, hampering efforts to support children affected by armed violence.
“The number of schools forced to close due to insecurity in conflict-affected areas has increased from 312 to 377 over recent months in Niger,” it said.
In some areas, up to 80% of children may be victims of psychological trauma, potentially preventing them from achieving their full potential as adults.
“Attacks on schools, students and teachers are a denial of children’s right to education and threaten their future. Without access to education, a generation of children living in conflict will grow up without the skills they need to contribute to their country and economy, exacerbating the already desperate situation for millions of children and their families,” said Stefano Savi, UNICEF representative in Niger.
Noting that education is a lifesaver, Savi said a child’s right to education cannot be safeguarded in conflict zones without education being protected.
“Out of school, children are easy targets of abuse, exploitation and recruitment by armed forces and groups. School should provide a safe space where children can be protected from threats and crises. It is also a critical step to breaking the cycle of crisis and reduces the likelihood of future conflicts,” he said.
Western Niger has in recent years witnessed devastating attacks orchestrated by terror organizations linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), Ancar Dine and other militant groups based in northern Mali.
Hundreds of civilians and soldiers have been killed in the attacks, according to official figures.