Yaounde — Thousands of children in Cameroon are at the mercy of recruitment to extremist groups and criminal gangs after being forced out of school by the Boko Haram terror group.
This includes 23 000 school-aged children who are now out of school because of the escalating attacks on education infrastructure by the Boko Haram, the Nigerian-based sect opposed to Western education.
The United Nations reports that some 92 pre-schools and primary schools in northern Cameroon have been forced to close over the past four years.
Teachers fleeing Boko Haram-affected areas have not returned and numerous schools have been burnt down, bombed, heavily damaged, and in some instances, used as counter-offensive bases.
Operational schools lack basic equipment such as furniture and chalkboards.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) expressed concern the ongoing conflict in Cameroon's Far North region wasjeopardising the future of children, while also exposing them to recruitment by extremist groups such as Boko Haram.
"When children are not sitting in classrooms and learning, it becomes harder to protect them from being recruited by armed groups or being abducted," said David Manan, NRC's Country Director in Cameroon.
He added, "Without education, they are poorly equipped to fend for themselves. They have little knowledge and awareness to discern bad from good."
The Far North, bordering Nigeria, is the poorest region in Cameroon.
In addition, only 54 percent of the population receives any formal education, compared to 81 percent for the country.