More than a million children have had their education interrupted by the conflict in and around Nigeria, adding to the 11 million children already out of school in the region, the United Nations Children's Fund said Monday.
More than 2,000 schools across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger have closed since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency, which has destabilized the region and displaced millions, according to UNICEF.
"The conflict has been a huge blow for education in the region," said Manuel Fontaine, the group's West and Central Africa regional director. "And violence has kept many children out of the classroom for more than a year, putting them at risk of dropping out of school altogether."
While UNICEF in recent months has helped hundreds of schools reopen in northeast Nigeria, insecurity and fear of violence are preventing many teachers from resuming classes and discouraging parents from sending their children back to school. In Nigeria alone, approximately 600 teachers have been killed in the six-year insurgency waged by Boko Haram.
"Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom," Fontaine said. "Yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups."
Boko Haram is mostly based in northeast Nigeria, but the militant group this year has intensified its campaign, setting up camps and launching attacks in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger in its drive to carve out an Islamist caliphate.