Boko Haram’s violence and armed counter-offensives have prevented thousands of children from receiving an education in Far North Cameroon. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is concerned that the ongoing conflict in the region is jeopardizing the future of children and exposing them to recruitment by extremist groups or criminal gangs.
More than four years after the first attacks by Boko Haram in Cameroon, 23,000 school-aged children are out of school, while 92 pre-schools and primary schools remain closed in Far North Cameroon, according to UNICEF. Teachers who fled Boko Haram-affected areas have not returned and many of the schools have been burned, bombed, heavily damaged, and in some instances used as counter-offensive bases. In other instances, the schools lack basic equipment, such as benches, desks, chairs and chalkboards – for the students.
“The conflict and the lack of schooling in Far North Cameroon are destroying the opportunities and possibly the future of thousands of children,” said David Manan, NRC's Country Director in Cameroon. “Children, who were 6 years old when the conflict began, are now 10. Many of these children have not been able to return to school at all.”
At the peak of the crisis in 2015, 144 schools were closed in Cameroon’s Far North region, due to insecurities, leaving 36,000 girls and boys without education, or forcing them to attend school outside of their communities.
Boko Haram´s violence exacerbated existing structural educational problems in Cameroon’s poorest region, which has been suffering from inadequate infrastructure, school equipment and trained teachers. Only 54 percent of the population of the Far North receives any formal education, compared to 81 percent for the country, as a whole.
NRC is concerned that the ongoing conflict in Far North Cameroon is jeopardizing the future of children, while also exposing them to recruitment by extremist groups or criminal gangs.
“When children are not sitting in classrooms and learning, it becomes harder to protect them from being recruited by armed groups or being abducted,” explained Manan. “Without education, they are poorly equipped to fend for themselves. They have little knowledge and awareness to discern bad from good.”
Many of the students' access to education is hampered by their lack of civil documentation. The Ministry of Education estimates that 35 percent of school-aged children do not have birth certificates in Far North Cameroon. Without birth certificates, children in Cameroon cannot take exams to enter secondary-level education. In 2017, NRC helped 298 school-aged children (133 girls, 165 boys) receive their birth certificates, while 238 other requests are being currently processed. The program was funded by the EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). This year, NRC is working with local authorities in providing birth certificates to 2500 school-aged children in the region.
NRC has been working with national and local authorities in Cameroon, to simplify the procedure, reduce processing times and lower the costs to obtain birth certificates.
In 2018, NRC will continue its efforts to help children return to school by rehabilitating 24 classrooms in Logone et Chari and Mayo-Sava subdivisions, and also providing teaching material, school kits and professional development for 210 teachers.