The United Nations reported on Tuesday that more than one million children have been forced out of school by Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighbouring countries, who often become prey to sexual abuse, abduction and recruitment due to the violence.
The Boko Haram stronghold is based in northeastern Nigeria but the militant group has stepped up its campaign, carrying out attacks in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger in its attempt to create a state under its control.
The UN children’s agency said at least 2,000 schools in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger remain closed due to the conflict and hundreds have been destroyed or looted.
UNICEF's West and Central Africa regional director Manuel Fontaine said in a statement, "Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom."
"Yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups."
Since October more than 400 schools have reopened in Nigeria’s Borno state, more than 18 months after education was disrupted in the wake of a deadly attack which killed at least 59 students in Yobe, a neighbouring city to Borno.
Though in Cameroon’s Far North region, which has been struck by waves of suicide bombings often carried out by young women in recent months, only one school out of the 135 closed in 2014 has reopened this year, UNICEF reported.
Though the majority of Schools in northeastern Nigeria have been able to resume classes, many of the classrooms are very crowded while some schools are still being used to accommodate internally displaced people.
Hassan Modu, principal of a recently reopened school in Borno State's capital Maiduguri, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, "It is important to provide education for these vulnerable children – the future generation of our country - who would be targets for Boko Haram if they were not in school."
Since 2009, Boko Haram has killed at least 17,000 people, mostly in Nigeria, and displaced 2 million others.