In West and Central Africa, climate change, poverty, gender inequality, political instability and unemployment threaten peaceful co-existence and sustainable development. As of early 2020, 12 of 24 states in the region experience armed conflict resulting in widespread forced displacement, both within the affected countries and their neighbors. This in turn amounts to almost 2 million refugees, 7 million internally displaced persons and 1.8 million people at risk of statelessness (UNHCR Regional Office for West and Central Africa).
Of the ten worst conflict-affected countries to be a child, according to a Save the Children report, four are in West and Central Africa: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Nigeria.
In this context, violent extremism is on the rise. According to the UNODC, violent extremism “includes forms of ideologically motivated violence” which can include “distort[ion] and exploit[ation] of religious beliefs, ethnic differences and political ideologies.”
As the threat increases, violence seriously affects educational opportunities: threats to education personnel and attacks on schools deny children their right to education and put them at increased risk of abuse, violence and exploitation.
As of February 2020, before most education systems closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, 3,641 schools were closed due to violence and insecurity in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger alone, affecting nearly 700,000 children and 20,000 teachers (Education Clusters Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger). These numbers have only increased due to COVID-19 containment measures: more than 128 million children are currently out of school across the region. While at home, young people spend more time on the internet, which renders them even more susceptible to the risks of online radicalization.