War against education in Burkina Faso

Overcrowded primary school classroom in Kaya, Centre-Nord region, Burkina Faso Overcrowded primary school classroom in Kaya, Centre-Nord region, Burkina Faso © Lauren Seibert/Human Rights Watch

This article is a brief presentation of a report ‘Armed Group Attacks Against Education’ in Burkina Faso by Human Rights Watch

The report documents attacks affected students, education professionals and schools allegedly carried out by armed Islamist groups between 2017 and 2020 in six regions of Burkina Faso. The report is based on interviews with 177 people, including 74 teachers, school administrators, 35 current and former students, 12 parents, and other witnesses to attacks, relatives of victims, community leaders, experts, aid workers and officials.

Burkina Faso has faced complex problems and challenges in education due to poverty, poor access, and poor infrastructure as well as insufficient numbers of trained teachers, particularly in rural areas. The crisis amidst pandemic and attacks have exacerbated those challenges, creating negative consequences for students, teachers, and society as a whole. Attacks have reduced the quality of education and students failed their final exam. It also caused extensive fear-induced and long-term psychosocial consequences for students that forced the withdrawal of schools. Many children affected by school closures continue classes desperately in towns away from home where some began commuting long distances while others moved to town living in groups of children without adult family members, putting them at risk of exploitation, violence, and other forms of abuse. Reportedly, out-of-school children are likely to work in the markets, as domestic help, gold miners, and brick makers. The girls may be less likely to be re-enrolled in school than boys and face increased risks of child marriage when out of school. 

There was the alleged use of 10 schools for military purposes in Centre-North and Sahel regions in 2019 by members of the Burkinabè armed forces, the Defense and Security Forces (Forces de Défense et de Sécurité, FDS). The use of schools for military purposes has also put education infrastructure at risk of damage and destruction. At least four schools were attacked during or directly after the military’s occupation of the schools in Burkina Faso.

In response to the humanitarian crisis, the government has taken important steps to implement measures in line with the Safe School Declaration, endorsed in 2017. The initiatives aimed at creating a national strategy and technical secretariat on “education in emergencies” included redeploying teachers, working to reopen schools, organizing catch-up sessions for students, and instructing schools to enroll displaced students “systematically and without fees”. Although Burkina Faso’s international humanitarian response plan remains underfunded, the aid agencies have assisted with crucial support to the government efforts and partnered on several initiatives, for example, setting up temporary learning space. Particularly the following problems were identified, namely: insufficient resources, personnel, and infrastructure devoted to schools enrolling displaced students; the lack of psychosocial support to teachers and students who experienced education-related attacks; the lack of adequate security for many schools operating in at-risk regions, as well as the lack of reliable data related to the attacks and military occupation.

In order to meet such needs, the government should immediately address the issues and together with humanitarian aid workers or partners increase support to meet the identified needs; create concrete measures to deter the use of schools for military purposes, drawing upon examples of good practices of other African Union countries and implement the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict which Burkina Faso endorsed in 2017. The armed Islamist groups should cease all attacks identified as war crimes and other human rights abuses. The government should maintain access to education in times of insecurity and support psychological well-being, ensuring children are protected and remain in safe place. 


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Author: Mery Ana Farida; Editor: Sara Gorelli

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