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From COVID-19 vaccine to girls’ education

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Canada’s commitment to Niger’s children

By Lalaina F. Andriamasinoro

NIAMEY (Niger), 2 September 2021 - Niger has today received 100,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a donation from the Canadian Government through the COVAX Facility. The vaccine doses were officially received at Niamey International Airport by Dr Illiassou Idi Mainassara, Minister for Public Health and COVAX partners’ and donors’ representatives.

As announced by the Canadian Prime Minister at the G7 Summit on June 13, 2021, Canada’s $1.3 billion contribution to the ACT Accelerator, as part of the $2.5 billion that the country has contributed to the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, is helping to provide 87 million vaccine doses to developing countries. On July 12, 2021, Canada announced that it would be sharing an additional 17.7 million doses - distributed via the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). It will help accelerate deliveries to low and lower middle-income countries, including Niger.

From vaccine to girls’ education

In Niger, the Government of Canada also supported UNICEF to enhance and promote girls’ education, improve access and educational outcomes for girls and women, especially those affected by conflict, crises and fragility. More than 220,000 girls from the regions of Maradi, Zinder, Dosso, Diffa, Tahoua and Tillabéry directly benefit from the $7 million (CDN) funding support donated by Canada.

Girls continue to face extremely reduced chances to access education. In Niger, 56.3% of girls and 50.1% of boys aged 7 to 16 are out of school. Girls are deprived of their right to education and do not acquire the knowledge and skills they need to realize their potential throughout their lives. Also, for thousands of children in Niger, childhood is cut short by marriage. UNICEF estimates that around 3 in 4 young girls were married before the age of 18, and 1 in 4 before the age of 15.

Safe return to school

In 2020, COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected the education system in Niger and considerably slowed the implementation of the education programme. The closure of about 20,000 schools for three months affected more than 3.5 million children, in addition to the 2.5 million children already out-of-school.

Support from the Government of Canada and other partners has been pivotal to ensure children’s safe return to school. UNICEF focused its interventions to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on children’s learning and ensure the safe return to school for girls. UNICEF directly supported the safe reopening of more than 3,000 schools (15% of schools), hosting 450,000 students.

Supporting children in crisis

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, affecting almost 22,000 children. Threats to school security were particularly acute in the regions of Tillabéry, Tahoua and Diffa. Access to schools in these regions is restricted, hampering efforts to support children affected by armed violence. Children are increasingly vulnerable to recruitment and use by armed groups as conflicts in affected regions become more brutal, intense and widespread.

Through the support from Canada and other partners, UNICEF supported the government in responding to the displacement crises by enabling access to education in the regions of Diffa, Maradi, Tillabéry and Tahoua. In 2020, over 176,000 children affected by the security and displacement crises were supported for educational continuity in these regions. By the end of March 2021, an additional 68,000 children accessed formal or non-formal education, including early learning, and 28,000 children received individual learning materials with UNICEF support.

“Niger has come a long way in advancing children and women’s rights. Being able to go to school is now a reality for many more children. But we still see a staggering number of children in Niger suffering from multiple deprivations. UNICEF appreciates the tremendous support from Canada in building a better Niger for all children” says Stefano Savi, UNICEF Representative in Niger.