“My Niger trip showed me why education in troubled countries is so vital”
Children in conflicts
The first World Humanitarian Summit will be held in Turkey in May. World leaders are being urged to commit to launch a fund that ensures children return to school quickly after an emergency such as a conflict or natural disaster. Theirworld, the children’s charity behind A World at School, is running the #SafeSchools petition and campaign and our Global Youth Ambassadors are addressing the issue in a series of blogs.
Growing up in Cameroon, I thought my country was one of the poorest in the world. That was until I visited Niger earlier this year.
I went as a research consultant on a World Health Organization-funded programme, working with community health workers to improve the health and wellbeing of childre.
The trip happened a few days after the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, was attacked by terrorists – killing 30 people.
At first I was a little concerned about my trip and so were my parents – but I refused to let my fears take over. I finally convinced my family that my going to Niger was a good idea; as a strong advocate for global education and a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School I was concerned about the educational challenges children face in this part of the continent.
During our trips to the remote towns of Dosso and Doutchi, I was shocked by the large number of street children, between five and 12 years old, who gathered on busy streets begging.
To see so many children out of school was distressing. Most of the girls were carrying water or cooking while the boys accompanied the animals to graze.
Niger is one of the West African countries with the lowest literacy rates. According to UNICEF data from 2008-2012, the total adult literacy rate was less than a third of the population, only 28.7%.
As part of government efforts to improve educational opportunities in Niger schooling is now free, yet enrollment rates are still very low, especially among girls due to traditional norms such as child marriages – more than a third of girls in Niger are married before their 15th birthday.
Despite the efforts being made to support out-of-school children, the government still faces several challenges, including the current refugee crisis within the country.
The terrorist actions of Boko Haram have displaced millions of people fleeing from insecurity. Over 213,000 people live in refugee camps in the Diffa region while another 54,000 refugees from Mali remain in the country, increasing the strain on already weak and insufficient basic services.
In Niger, the major barriers to education include extreme poverty, discrimination against girls, physical distance, insufficient teachers, poor learning environments and the perception of the value of education.
These barriers were endemic even before this particular conflict. When terrorist groups like Boko Haram then offer financial incentives to young teens to join or support them, those young people are deprived of their education.
Some parents are scared to send their children, in particular their daughters, to secondary schools in nearby towns due to safety and security concerns.
My stay in Niger made me appreciate what it means to live in a peaceful environment – something most of us take for granted.
Article 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “All children have the right to primary education, which should be free”.
The right to education in conflict situation is protected under the International Humanitarian Law by the Fourth Geneva Convention and by the Refugee Convention of 1951.
I therefore call on all governments to do everything in their power to protect the children in conflict zones and for the international community to increase funding for education in emergencies.
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