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Sahel School Closures Increase by 20% in Past Year, with 200,000 More Children Out of Class


An uptick in violence in the Sahel region - Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali has led to the closure of nearly 7,800 primary schools, said Save the Children, with the number of closures rising 20% in the past year. 

As a result, as of June 2023, around 1.4 million children are missing out on education and the skills they’ll need to participate fully in their communities as adults, compared to June last year when around 6,400 primary schools were closed, affecting around 1.2 million children. 

On International Day for the Protection of Schools from Attack, Save the Children is calling on governments and stakeholders to take steps to protect children’s education in the Sahel by supporting the implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration, which is a commitment and framework to enable states to protect education in fragile contexts. 

Following an upsurge in violence in the Sahel, many children and teachers are too scared to attend school. There have also been cases of armed groups directly attacking schools and causing damage to school buildings. Many children are internally displaced by the conflict and no longer have access to schooling.

The number of primary school closures is highest in Burkina Faso (5,318), followed by Mali (1,545) and Niger (958).

Mohamed*, 13, and his family fled their home due to instability. He now lives in Pissila, Burkina Faso. He said:

“We fled our village because of insecurity. And I don’t have any papers on me to prove that I went to school elsewhere. We left everything there when we fled. Honestly, when I go to bed at night, I can’t even fall asleep. When I think that I won’t be able to do what I used to do, it really hurts my heart. I think this situation compromises my life, because school was going to improve my life, but now we can’t go anymore”.

Many children in the region have also been killed and injured or have witnessed distressing attacks. 

Moussa*, 12, from Tillaberi in Niger, said:

“... they threw something, and when it exploded, everyone panicked. People were in the bush, others at home, but we were at school. Some crawled back into the classrooms; others ran in all directions, and others hid in the classrooms. I crawled home. I found that people had locked themselves in, and little children were crying.”

Violence across West and Central Africa was already having a devastating impact on children’s education. In 2022, it was reported that 57 million children in Central and West Africa did not attend schools, which represents almost a quarter of children worldwide.

So far, 17 out of 27 states have signed up to the Safe Schools Declaration.

Vishna Shah, Regional Director of Advocacy and Campaigns for Save the Children, said: 

“Armed violence in the Sahel is robbing children of their education and futures. Attacks on schools must stop now. Children and teachers need to be able to attend school without fear of violence. Children’s education cannot be put on hold. Governments and stakeholders in the Sahel must do all they can to protect children’s right to an education, including implementing the Safe School Declaration and its guidelines.”



*Names changed to protect anonymity

Number of primary school closures in 2022 and 2023 is based on figures from Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Education and Mali and Niger’s education cluster reports.

2023 (end of May and June)
Schools closed due to conflict in MoE for Burkina Faso (5,318), and education clusters for Mali (1545) and Niger (958) total = 7,821
Children affected in Burkina Faso (878 731), Mali (463,613) and Niger (73,832) Total = 1,416,176

2022 (end of May and June)
Schools closed due to conflict in MoE for Burkina Faso (3725) and education clusters for Mali 1766 and Niger (890) Total = 6,381
Children affected in Burkina Faso (600,723)Mali (529 800) and Niger (73,832) Total = 1,204,355

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding more than 100 years ago, we’ve been advocating for the rights of children worldwide. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming the future we share.

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