11,100 schools closed in the Sahel region due to conflict

09 September 2022

Dakar, Friday 9 September 2022 – On the occasion of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, Joining Forces, an alliance of the six largest international NGOs working for and with children, and UNICEF, are calling on Sahelian governments, ECOWAS and the African Union to adopt specific policies and laws to better prevent and respond to attacks on schools in the Sahel.

While many parents are currently shopping for school supplies, hundreds of thousands of children will not be going back to school this year. In the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin 11,100 schools are closed due to conflict or threats made against teachers and students. The number of attacks on schools in West and Central Africa more than doubled between 2019 and 2020. Many classrooms have been burned and some schools are occupied by armed groups or armed forces.

“One day we were at school and people came to tell us to close the school. They gave us time to leave and said if they came back and found anyone at the school, they would kill them,” says a 13-year-old girl from Burkina Faso.

Given the ongoing conflict and the fact that reconstruction or renovation of these schools will be slow and difficult, access to alternative educational opportunities for children whose schools are closed must be a priority. Half of the population in this region are under the age of 18, and these closures, combined with the growing impoverishment of the population are likely to result in a disproportionately important decline in girls' access to education, further widening the gender gap, and increasing practices like child marriage and early pregnancy.

The #SafeSchools campaign spearheaded by Joining Forces and UNICEF warns of the negative impact of the crisis in the Sahel on children's access to and retention in school and calls for the respect of their rights to access education and to an inclusive and safe school environment.

“On this International Day to Protect Education from Attack, the #SafeSchools campaign urge Sahelian governments, ECOWAS and the African Union to act. We expect them to take concrete measures within their power, such as adopting a declaration prohibiting the military use of schools and implementing the Safe Schools Declaration" said Carla Denizard, Regional Director of World Vision, on behalf of the Joining Forces coalition.

The impact of attacks on schools is amplified by prevailing inequitable access to education. National budgets for education in the Sahel have steadily decreased over the past decade.

"Attacks on schools, students and educators are attacks on children’s right to an education – and on their futures," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "Without access to education, a generation of children living in conflict in West and Central Africa will grow up without the skills they need to reach their potential, and play their full role in their families and communities, and contribute to their countries and economies”.

All children have the right to education and to safe schools. Join the #SafeSchools campaign in the Sahel to end attacks on schools.


Notes to editors

  • Joining Forces is an alliance of the six largest international NGOs (ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children's Villages International, Terre des Hommes International Federation, and World Vision International) working for and with children under the age of 18 to realize their rights and end all violence against them. For more information: https://joining-forces.org/
  • UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
  • The #SafeSchools campaign in the Sahel is jointly led by UNICEF in West and Central Africa and Joining Forces in West and Central Africa.
  • Photos and stories are available upon request.
  • You can find the campaign on social media: FacebookTwitter and Linkedin

Media contacts

Matias Lindemann
Tel: +1 917 547 2846
Georgina Diallo
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia
Tel: +1 917 238 1559


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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