Working to save children living precarious lives in Cameroon’s forgotten and neglected conflict – global issues

Yasmin Sharif, Director of Education Can’t Wait and Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council meet students at Souza Gare School in the coastal region, Cameroon. The school hosts displaced children who have fled violence in the northwest and southwest regions. Credit: ECW / Daniel Beloumou
  • By Joyce Chimpy (yaoundé, Cameroon)
  • Interpress service

In an exclusive interview with IPS from Cameroon, where Sherif And Egeland On a four-day visit, they told about the impact of this ongoing conflict between armed groups and government forces in this Central African country.

“The situation in Cameroon is devastating and education is under attack. Just last week, an attack on a school killed four children and one teacher. A girl’s fingers were cut off for going to school. The result is fear. Fear of going to school,” Sharif says.

Egeland agrees that children are victims of violence that has nothing to do with them.

“The struggle between adults over political, cultural and governance issues that are so real and so important to be resolved has not been resolved in negotiations. They have been endowed with armed violence against children and life-threatening attacks on their places of learning.

In the face of threats, harassment, violence, kidnappings and killings targeting teachers and children attending school, two out of three schools have closed in the Northwest and Southwest regions, the epicenter of the conflict between armed groups and government forces in this Central African country.

There are growing concerns that the situation has put an entire generation of children in North West and Southwest Cameroons at risk of missing out on lifelong learning opportunities.

Sheriff who heads ECW, the Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, and Egeland urged all participants to end violence against children.

Hundreds of civilians, including children, have been killed since January 2020 in the Northwest and Southwest regions. Armed groups and government forces are engaged in violent conflict, and the risks and needs of conflict-affected children have increased.

“These are among the most complex humanitarian crises in the world today. Children and young people are forced to flee their homes and schools, threatened with violence and kidnapping, forced into early childhood marriages and being recruited into armed groups,” Sharif says.

We call on donors to provide urgent support to respond to this forgotten crisis. We call for respect for human rights, adherence to the principles of international humanitarian law and the Safe Schools Declaration – and we call on partners to redouble efforts so that all children and adolescents can return to safety and protection, and we hope that they provide quality learning environments. “

Sherif says that nine out of 10 regions in Cameroon are still affected by one of the complex humanitarian crises, including the northwest and southwest crisis, the conflict in the Far North, and the refugee crisis to flee Cameroon.

Children are devastatingly affected with more than one million children in need of urgent educational support. While Sharif is impressed by their resilience, courage and hunger for education, Sharif says that is not enough to keep them in school.

“Children will need protection, school meals, health and psychosocial support, and tools for teachers to do their work,” she says.

To address these multiple emergencies, exacerbated by COVID-19 and climate change, Sharif says ECW is working alongside organizations in Cameroon, the Ministry of Basic Education, the Ministry of Secondary Education, UN agencies, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and civil society education partners to build a multi-year resilience program in Cameroon.

Egeland told IPS that the partnerships are timely and crucial because what is happening in Cameroon’s northwest and southwest regions deserves international outrage.

He says more than 700,000 children in Cameroon are “either out of school altogether because they lost their school at gunpoint or because they and 90 others ended up in cramped classrooms in the few remaining schools. Children should never be the pawns of adult men in a political struggle.”

Sharif fears that more children will leave the education system and not return.

“I feel very strongly about improving and strengthening the education rights of all children in Cameroon. Just because you live in Cameroon does not mean that you cannot go to school. Legal provisions for children affected by conflict must be activated.”

With many schools still closed or suspended, Sharif says there is cause for concern. In the absence of urgent, practical and practical interventions to manage risks such as building walls around schools and strengthening school security, an entire generation of children in Cameroon could become illiterate.

To reopen schools, Egeland says children should be excused from political grievances. In compliance with international law, he said, safe areas or areas established in armed conflict must be declared to protect civilians, and genuine negotiations between warring groups must be activated.

He says negotiations are urgently needed because the situation is now out of control – five years since renewed tensions between the government and armed groups turned into an emergency crisis.

On his visit to Cameroon three years ago, Egeland said an estimated 500,000 people had been displaced. Today, the number has risen to more than 700,000 people.

After that, hundreds of thousands of children were out of school for the second year in a row. Today, children are out of school for the fifth year in a row.

Sharif says the situation is unsustainable and that a flexible, safe and secure learning environment is the most pressing need for children in Cameroon.

“ECW is contributing US$25 million over three years and calling on other donors to fill the gap of US$50 million. When fully funded, the program will provide approximately 250,000 children and adolescents with access to safe and protective learning environments in the most affected areas,” she said.

Egeland says such investments are badly needed.

He told IPS that the turmoil did not scare children’s dreams of a bright future in nursing, medicine and law.

There is an urgent need for the international community to focus on Cameroon – the forgotten and neglected conflict.

“Cameroon is no longer the most neglected in terms of funding for every person in need. He warned that the country is severely underfunded despite the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the increasing vulnerabilities of children.

He also said that the warring groups should be encouraged to find compromise because the end of the ongoing conflict would be a start full of tremendous opportunities for Cameroonian children.

Meanwhile, Sharif says the situation is so appalling that children who go to school wear camouflage clothing, so they are not targeted by violent armed groups. They need safe environments now – their education cannot wait.


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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Andrew Naughtie

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