Saturday August 24, 2019
GENEVA - The U.N. children's agency reports schools across West and Central Africa are being targeted by insurgent groups. It says attacks and threats of violence have forced more than 9,000 schools across eight countries to close since the end of 2017, robbing nearly 2 million children of an education.
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Muzoon Almellehan, who recently returned from Mali, says the children she met live in fear of their lives and their futures.
"Many schools have been attacked, which resulted in many children out of school, which affects the future of those countries," she said. "And if we do not act now, rather than tomorrow, we cannot help those children to have access to education, which is a fundamental human right."
Almellehan is a Syrian refugee who was forced to flee her war-torn country in 2013. She says the education she received in a refugee camp gave her hope, and positively impacted her future. She wants to provide that same opportunity to other children in dire circumstances.
Children who have no education are vulnerable to abuse, manipulation and exploitation, Almellehan told VOA.
"Sometimes they are exploited sexually, or maybe ... they get married at such a young age. Maybe they will also be in child labor, and the most dangerous when they can go for recruitment by those terrorist groups," she said. "So, those terrorist groups can exploit them, can use them as child soldiers, and this can destroy their future and their lives."
UNICEF is working with authorities and communities to support alternative learning opportunities. These include community learning centers, radio school programs and faith-based learning initiatives.
The agency has appealed for $221 million to pay for educational and psychosocial support and care for school children, and for other essential programs in the region. However, it has received less than 30 percent of that amount.