The United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF) monday raised the alarm that the North-east geopolitical region which has always remained educationally backward may be further drawn back into the woods by the recent Boko Haram siege.
The alarm coincided with the admittance by the federal government that the abduction of the female students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, has drawn the nation back on its efforts and strategies to promote the girl-child education and balance the gender gap in education.
UNICEF said recent indications showed that the region, which had been on top of the nation’s out-of-school table, had moved further down the league and needs immediate intervention to get back on track.
Addressing journalists at this year’s Day of the African Child with the theme: ‘A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa,’ in Bauchi, the organisation’s Planning Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Dr. Danjuma Almustafa, who stood in for Dr. Abdulai Kaikai, the Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Bauchi, said statistics showed that Nigeria has 10.5 million children out of school – the highest number in the world.
He lamented that almost one of three primary school children was out of school, and roughly one of four junior secondary school children was out of school.
Almustafa further decried that nearly 6.3 million or 60 per cent, of the 10.5 million Nigerian children who out of school children live in the northern part of the country.
He said: “Even when enrolled, hundreds of children – especially girls – are not showing up for class. Although girls’ primary school attendance has generally been improving, this has not been the case for girls from the poorest households.
“Rural areas are disadvantaged almost everywhere in the country. Moreover, wealth and socio-economic status confer a definite advantage in terms of enrolment, attendance and completion.”
He said: “Prior to 2011, most attacks on schools in the North had targeted infrastructure and were carried out at night when schools were empty. However, since 2012, teachers and school students are increasingly targeted by militants, resulting in killings, abductions and threats.
“Many schools were bombed, set on fire or attacked by militants in the North – and increasingly militants turned their attention to students and teachers, according to the ‘Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack in 2013.’
“Dozens of school teachers were murdered, and universities experienced heavy casualties by gunmen firing indiscriminately and in some cases, using bombs.”
He added that: “From January to July 2013, more than 50 schools were attacked and partially destroyed or burned down, most of them in Borno State and few in neighbouring Yobe State, according to Amnesty International.”
“Additionally, the Borno State Ministry of Education estimated that 15,000 children in the state stopped attending classes between February and May as a result of attacks.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina, has admitted that the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls has drawn the nation back on efforts and strategies to promote the child education.
Maina, while speaking yesterday at the commemoration of the Day of the African Child in Abuja, gave the assurance that the federal government was working to ensure that the girls are safely returned to their parents.
Represented by the Director of Legal Affairs in the ministry, Mrs. Victoria Eze-Igwe, the minister also noted that governments at all levels were putting security measures in place to ensure the adequate protection of children in their schools to forestall future occurrence.
“…Working on a comprehensive psycho-social support, trauma management, counselling and empowerment for parents and the girls when they return. This is because most of the victims and their families are psychologically traumatised and need counselling and support to be re-integrated and to return to school,” she said.
Maina added that girl-child education would continue to be accorded priority attention to reduce the incidence of early marriage and its attendant complications such as Vesico Vagina Fistula (VVF), and maternal and infant mortality rates.
The celebration of the Day of the African Child, she said, offered the opportunity to reflect on the current realities of children in Africa and to collectively commit to those responsibilities and actions that will remove the obstacles that stand between African children and the
realisation of their rights.
She added that the theme of the programme: ‘A child friendly, quality, free and compulsory education for all children in Africa,’ was apt for African and Nigerian children in particular who are facing acts of violence in a bid to access quality education.
The Day of the African Child is marked on June 16 annually in memory of the massacre of children by then apartheid South African authorities in Soweto in 1976, for protesting the implementation of apartheid inspired education.