World Children’s Day: UNESCO, UNICEF stress need for improved education for migrant children

Some school children used to illustrate the story
Some school children used to illustrate the story

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has reiterated the need to improve education for migrant children, including those internally displaced by the insurgency in Nigeria.

The organisation stated this on Wednesday as it presented a report on the occasion of the World Children’s Day.

To mark the day too, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) lighted Abuja City Gate to draw the attention of Nigerian leaders to the need to recommit to the wellbeing of children.

“Progress is insufficient on providing inclusive education for internal migrants in Nigeria”, the 2019 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report by UNESCO stated.
The report entitled “Building Bridges, Not Walls” highlights countries’ achievements and shortcomings in ensuring the right of migrant and refugee children to quality education.

Launched at a regional event in Nairobi co-hosted by the Government of Kenya, the report shows the need for improvement in education for migrant children in Nigeria who have ended up in informal settlements, nomadic communities, and those who are internally displaced.

According to the report, rural to urban migration has had major implications for population redistribution in Nigeria and makes urban development planning, including for education, challenging.

“In Nigeria, a 2010 survey revealed that 23 per cent of the population had changed area of residence for at least six months within the previous 10 years, with about 60 per cent of internal migrants living in urban areas. In seven out of 36 states, including Abia and Lagos, migrants constituted more than two-fifths of the population,” the report revealed.

The report projects that the number of children living in slums in Nigeria will increase by 67 per cent by 2030, a total of 13 million children, which could fill over 400,000 classrooms.

On nomadic communities, the report said the main challenge of internal migration of nomads in northern Nigeria remains tackling the socio-economic challenges that sustain the almajiri system.

“Internal migration of nomads in northern Nigeria has seen the federal and state governments introduce several initiatives over the years, such as mobile schools and collapsible classrooms, canoes and boats for migrant fishing communities, and improved infrastructure and technology aids”, the report revealed.

Almajiris are ‘pupils of Islamic knowledge’ who migrate from their rural homes to urban areas in northern Nigeria and follow an itinerant religious teacher who delivers qur’anic education.

The report revealed that an intervention that targeted 700 traditional teachers focused on collaborating with them to select those teachers who would teach non-religious subjects in Kano State to improve education among the almajiris.

“ To engage the communities in Kano State, we did an intervention in Kano State and offered school meals, farm inputs and cash transfers at a small scale. About 70 per cent of the original cohort passed the junior secondary transition exam”, the report revealed.

The UNESCO report also revealed that there are 1.6 million IDPs in Nigeria, including an estimated 700,000 school-age children, as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency.

“Internally displaced people In north-eastern Nigeria, as of late 2017, there were 1.6 million IDPs, including an estimated 700,000 school-age children, as a result of violent attacks on civilians by Boko Haram, which began in 2009.

“Boko Haram has destroyed nearly 1,000 schools and displaced 19,000 teachers. Reports indicated it had killed almost 2,300 teachers by 2017.”

The report also revealed that the latest education needs assessment found that out of 260 school sites, 28 per cent had been damaged by bullets, shells or shrapnel, 20 per cent had been deliberately set on fire, 32 per cent had been looted and 29 per cent had armed groups or military in close proximity.

At the Abuja event, UNICEF Nigeria Communications Specialist, Geoffrey Njoku, said the lighting up of the city gate was to draw the attention of leaders at all levels to re-commit to themselves to children’s rights and well-being.

“Abuja’s City Gate joined the Empire State Building in New York, Sydney Opera House in Australia, Petra in Jordan, the Beijing National Aquatics Center and Water Cube in China, and Eden Park in New Zealand – and other national landmarks that were lighted blue for children”, he said.

Mr Njoku said the lighting was with a global request for individuals to sign a global online petition asking for ‘children to be put back on the agenda.

“We want to build a world where every child is in school, safe from harm and can fulfil their potential,” he said.

Some of the children who spoke at the event said every child has a right to good education.

Speaking on the challenges of the adolescent, a girl-child who pleaded anonymity for fear of stigmatisation said there are many living with HIV and they are being stigmatised due to the fact of ignorance.

“Stigma is a serious thing that can affect psychologically and mentally. I hope parents understand the children and those stigmatising the children.”

James Olowo, a youth living with HIV, said they found it difficult to get money for drugs.

“If you don’t have money, you will ignore the drugs and die,” he said.

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