Last Updated: Friday, 29 August 2014, 11:25 GMT

Niger: Thousands in north sit out another school year

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 4 September 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Niger: Thousands in north sit out another school year, 4 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48ce1d5b1e.html [accessed 29 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

AGADEZ, 4 September 2008 (IRIN) - Banditry, mine explosions, sporadic rebel attacks, and military crackdowns in northern Niger, have led thousands of students to pull out of school this year, according to the Agadez regional government.

An on-going desert conflict has shuttered almost 30 out of some 370 schools in the north, affecting more than 2,000 students, according to an IRIN count in August 2008.

Many of these students are entering their second year of missed classes, in a country where only 12 percent of women and 18 percent of men are able to read by age 24, according to Niger government statistics.

Security concerns shut down schools

Rebels have sporadically launched attacks from the north's Air Mountains over the past 20 years, demanding more control over their desert home and its resource wealth.

Though fighting has shut down schools in the past, teachers and parents in the mountains say this latest conflict, which broke out in February 2007, has been more violent, leading to more school closures.

Explosions from anti-vehicular landmines, not used during the last conflict, have cut off access to some schools.

A former teacher in the north spoke to IRIN on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals from bandits, rebels or the military.

He said bandits were taking advantage of the insecurity to rob schools, stealing food from schoolchildren and money from their parents.

"You sometimes see these bandits in the mountains who loitered before in cities [Agadez and Arlit, two of northern Niger's hub towns], not doing much. They were coming right up to school doors with their demands."

Even if a school does not shut down, some parents have pulled out their children to flee insecurity. Some of these children now fill their school days by helping their families with agricultural and pastoral work.

Others simply wait.

Displaced children need more than school

There are about 700 displaced children under six years old in the communes of Tchirozerene, Arlit and Agadez, according to the Ministry of Education.

The Agadez-based non-profit group, Rain for the Sahel and Sahara, is recruiting 24 local female teachers who will receive cereal in exchange for spending time with young displaced children, helping them cope with war trauma.

This is the first group of children in the Air Mountains to have fled landmine and helicopter attacks, which did not factor in past rebellions.

Mohamed Al Houseini, a former teacher at a primary school in Tchirozerene, said his students are more deeply affected this time than during previous uprisings.

"I will not return there [Tamazalak school] as long as this war continues. My students always cried, expecting heavy artillery explosions."

Houseini taught his last class this past May to about 100 students. The school is now closed.

Teachers are targeted by both sides of conflict

One teacher who requested anonymity told IRIN Niger's military arrested him after a mine explosion this past March, accusing him of helping rebels plant mines. The teacher said he knew nothing about the explosion, and was released after three months.

Another former teacher said his problems began when he worked with local government officials to help distribute UN-funded food donations 20 kilometres from Iferouane this past March. "The rebels suspected me of being a government spy and collaborating with the military. They took me prisoner for 35 days in the Tamgak mountains."

The teacher said he was released, unharmed.

Both teachers said they want to continue teaching, but only under more peaceful circumstances.

pt/aj


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