In Cameroon, hundreds of displaced girls have protested the conflicts that have disrupted or halted their education. Close to a million Cameroonian children have lost school time in recent years due to the separatist conflict in western regions and Boko Haram terrorism on the borders with Chad and Nigeria. The demonstrators are calling Tuesday for better security so children, especially girls, can return to classrooms.
Sixteen-year-old Adama Issatou tells onlookers in Maroua, a town on Cameroon’s northern border with Chad and Nigeria, that she needs an education. She said she speaks for scores of other girls who were deprived of an education by Boko Haram militants.
Adama said in 2018, militants forcefully took her out of a school in Kolofata, a town on Cameroons northern border with Nigeria. She said a Boko Haram fighter impregnated her, then abandoned her for three years in a camp on the border with Nigeria.
Adama said in 2021, she was freed from the camp by government troops fighting Boko Haram.
Adama’s plea to have an education was broadcast several times by media Tuesday, including on Cameroon’s public broadcaster, CRTV, Canal 2 and Satellite FM Radio.
The government says hundreds of girls demonstrated in several cities, including Yaounde, Bamenda and Kumbo in the Northwest region, Buea, Kumba and Limbe in the Southwest region and Maroua on the northern border.
The protests were scheduled to coincide with the U.N. International Day of the Girl Child. The day is meant to recognize girls’ rights and the challenges they face around the world.
Emmanual Kimbi is an official of Education for All Children, a rights group headquartered in Yaounde. He said a coalition of 20 groups organized Tuesday’s demonstrations.
Kimbi said Cameroon rights groups want separatist fighters, Boko Haram militants and government troops to spare schools and allow children to have an education.
“You get into a village and you see a girl of 12 years already having a child. These are children who are supposed to be in school. Those who triggered these issues recruited children, pupils as child soldiers. We should rescue them, we should move around and preach so that people should see the essence of education. Reconstruct the schools, allow the children to go to schools,” he said.
Handerson Quetong Kongeh is the highest government official in Ngoketunjia, an administrative unit in Cameroon’s Northwest region, where the government says separatists have closed several dozen schools since September, when the school year began in Cameroon.
Kongeh said the government has deployed troops to make the schools safe. He says troops will not spare anyone who wants to interrupt teaching.
“Any proponents of boycott who will continue to insist on boycott should know that they have another agenda which is hidden, and therefore woe betide anybody who will continue to carry out a campaign and sensitization for this doctrine of boycott,” he said.
Cameroon separatist groups accuse the government of attacking schools and blame the attacks on the separatists – an allegation the government denies. Human Rights Watch says both sides are responsible for attacks on schools.
The United Nations says the separatist crisis that began in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions in 2016 has deprived some 750,000 children of an education, a majority of them girls.
It says another 250,000 have been deprived of learning in the north because of the Boko Haram conflict.