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18.5 Million Nigerian Children Are Out of School, UNICEF Says

FILE - A soldier sits on one of the trucks used to bring back the girls who were kidnapped from a boarding school in the northwest Nigerian state of Zamfara, following their release in Zamfara, Nigeria, March 2, 2021.

About 18.5 million children, the majority of whom are girls, do not have access to education in Nigeria, a figure up sharply compared with 2021, the U.N children's fund says.

Last year, UNICEF estimated that 10.5 million children were out of school in Africa's most populous country.

"Currently in Nigeria, there are 18.5 million out-of-school children, 60% of whom are girls," Rahama Farah, the head of the UNICEF office in Kano, told reporters Wednesday.

The numerous attacks on schools by jihadists and criminal gangs in the north have particularly harmed children's education, Farah said.

"These attacks have created a precarious learning environment, discouraged parents and guardians from sending their children to school," Farah said.

Since the 2014 Boko Haram abduction of 200 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok, dozens of schools have been targeted in similar mass abductions.

Last year, around 1,500 students were kidnapped by armed men, according to UNICEF. While most of the young hostages have since been released for ransom, some still remain in captivity in forests, where armed groups hide out.

In the predominantly Muslim north, Farah said, only one in four girls from "poor and rural families" completes middle school. Insecurity, he stressed, “emphasizes gender inequalities.”

Mass violence and kidnapping have forced the authorities to close more than 11,000 schools in the country since December 2020, according to UNICEF.

The U.N. agency has since warned of an increase in reported cases of child marriage and early pregnancy.