The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, says children and their families are suffering amidst and fleeing armed violence, attacks on their homes and schools, abduction, sexual violence and recruitment into armed groups. Imposed lockdowns, or ghost-town days, set in place by non-state armed groups, are affecting people’s freedom of movement and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Toby Fricker, UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva Friday's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva regretted that thousands of people lack access or have reduced access to basic services such as healthcare and safe drinking water, and livelihoods have been destroyed. As of December 2018, an estimated 40 per cent of health facilities in the South-West region were not functioning.
“The crisis escalated out of protests in the Anglophone region calling for greater autonomy nearly three years ago and has also had a devastating impact on children’s right to an education,” the UNICEF spokesperson recalls.
“For many children, it has been three years since they last stepped foot in a classroom. Due to a ban on education by non-state armed groups and attacks, over 80 per cent of schools have been closed, affecting more than 600,000 children. At least 74 schools have been destroyed, while students, teachers and school personnel have been exposed to violence, abduction and intimidation. Since 2018, more than 300 students and teachers have been kidnapped. After traumatic experiences, they were all subsequently released.
“The targeting of education is putting the future of an entire generation of children at risk, children who with the right support and opportunities can build a more stable and prosperous future.
“Schools and classrooms must provide safe spaces for children to learn, to be with their friends and to restore a sense of normalcy in their lives. When children are out of school they face a higher risk of recruitment by armed groups and are more likely to be exposed to child marriage, early pregnancy, and the accompanying trauma and long lasting emotional distress that these experiences bring.
“While humanitarian access continues to be a challenge, UNICEF and partners are doing what we can to reach and improve the lives of children and people in need.
“Over the past year, UNICEF has provided support to almost 140,000 children. Working with partners, UNICEF has distributed water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kits to more than 78,000 people. Some 30,000 children have received psychosocial support through 33 child-friendly safe spaces and youth clubs, and 972 separated and unaccompanied children have been identified and are receiving support, with the aim of reuniting them with their families.
“Some 15,000 displaced children are now attending formal schools in host communities outside the region and teachers have been trained on providing psychosocial support for children who are dealing with the effects of conflict and displacement. UNICEF is also working with religious and community leaders to support advocacy efforts to re-open schools and to develop risk mitigation plans for schools in the conflict-affected area, should attacks occur during class-time.
“UNICEF and partners are working out of Field Offices in Buea in the South-West region and Bamenda in the North-West, positioning experts in child protection, education, health and WASH as close to affected populations as possible,” said Fricker.
UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict to: Protect all children and their families and to allow humanitarian access to all people in need, according to international humanitarian law and Protect and re-open schools and ensure safe learning spaces for children without condition.
UNICEF says it needs US$20 million to effectively respond to the emergency in the North-West and South-West regions this year. “We call on donors and the wider international community to: Provide flexible and multi-year resources to scale up the immediate response and to ensure that every child receives the support needed to recover and to thrive again.”
UNICEF has been working in Cameroon since 1975, with the mandate to advocate for the protection of children's rights, help meet their basic needs and expand their opportunities to reach their full potential wherever they live in the country.