The U.N. Children’s Fund in Nigeria said at least 1 million Nigerian children could miss school this year because of insecurity, as schools in the north of the country have been targeted by armed groups in a series of mass kidnappings for ransom.
UNICEF Nigeria said Wednesday the country had recorded 20 school attacks this year alone, and 1,436 students have been abducted. The report also showed that 16 students have been killed, and 200 remain missing.
As schools across the country began opening this week for a new semester, more than 37 million students are due back at schools.
But officials reported low attendance in attack-prone areas like north central Kaduna state. In the capital, authorities pushed back the resumption date to September 19 without giving a reason.
In the UNICEF report, country representative Peter Hawkins urged Nigerian authorities to prioritize security at schools, stating it was unacceptable for communities to be worried to send their children to school over fears they will be abducted.
Emmanuel Hwande, spokesperson at Nigerian Union of Teachers, said the government must take responsibility.
“We want the government to take actions, actions that will see that the security agencies respond properly to incidents of kidnapping, incidents of abduction where we’ll see them actively involved, actively engaging such criminal elements,” Hwande said.
Ransom-seeking criminal gangs began targeting schools in northern Nigeria late last year. Amnesty international says hundreds of schools there have been closed as a result.
Abuja resident Florence Ulo is scared about sending her five-year-old son back to school.
“Even me that is in the city, and of course my son’s school is not far from the house and they have security, but I still don’t feel comfortable,” she said. “The thought of that they can go into a school and abduct children is very scary for a parent.”
Last year, the coronavirus pandemic set back school calendars and disrupted learning for millions of students in Nigeria. UNICEF’s Hawkins said the situation has worsened “with the additional challenge of school closures due to prevailing insecurity across the country.”
He said that while countries worldwide, including Nigeria, have taken action to provide remote learning, many students are not being reached.
He said UNICEF joined a global “digital freeze” of social media Thursday to protest the inability of children around the world to access classrooms, and that unless mitigation measures are implemented, the World Bank estimates a loss of $10 trillion U.S. dollars in earnings over time for the present generation of students globally.