More than 18.5 million children in Nigeria have no access to education, with girls accounting for more than half the number, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said.
This is a staggering surge in cases of out-of-school children in Africa’s most populous country, which UNICEF put at 10.5 million last year.
“In Nigeria there are 18.5 million out-of-school children, 60 percent of these… are girls,” Rahama Farah, the head of UNICEF’s office in the northern city of Kano, told local reporters on Wednesday.
He said attacks on schools across the north by jihadists and criminal gangs who kidnap for ransom had contributed to the increase.
Since Boko Haram jihadists kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok in 2014, dozens of schools have been targeted in similar mass abductions.
Last year, gunmen abducted around 1,500 schoolchildren, with 16 students losing their lives, UNICEF says.
Most of the young hostages have been released after negotiations but some are still in captivity in forest hideouts.
More than 11,000 schools have closed in Nigeria due to insecurity since December 2020, UNICEF said last month.
But parents are also scared to send their children to learn in those still open, Farah said.
“These attacks have created an insecure learning environment, discouraged parents and caregivers from sending their children to schools,” said Farah, adding that pupils too were afraid.
Following the shutdown of schools across northern Nigeria, UNICEF has warned against a rise in reported cases of child marriages and early pregnancies.
In the predominantly Muslim north, Farah said that only one in four girls from “poor, rural families” completed junior high school even before the mass abductions.
Now the insecurity further “heightens gender inequity”, he said.