UNICEF on Saturday said it was relieved that 91 students of Salihu Tanko Islamiya School Tegina, in Niger State, abducted three months ago, have been freed from captivity. The organization condemned the death of one child who died while held by his abductors.
“Children who went in search of knowledge were abducted at their school – which is supposed to be a safe place for them – while exercising their fundamental right to an education,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
“They spent 88 days in the hands of their abductors before being freed yesterday. It is a tragedy and utterly unacceptable that one of these children died in captivity.”
Hayatu Hashimu was just 6 years old at the time of his death.
“We rejoice with the families whose children have been freed – and express our deepest condolences to little Hayatu’s family, who have just suffered the worst loss on top of the tragedy they have gone through for the last 88 days,” said Peter Hawkins.
“No family should lose a child just because it took the right decision to send that child to school. Schools should not be a target. Children should not be a target. Education is a fundamental right of every child and any attack on an educational institution is a violation of that right.”
“We reiterate our call to authorities take all necessary measures to ensure schools are safe for all children.”
UNICEF said it will work with partners to provide mental health, psychosocial support and counselling services to both the freed learners and their parents.
An estimated 200 Nigerian students are believed to still be held after school abductions that have plagued the country since December 2020. More than 1,000 have been abducted in these attacks from December 2020 to date.
The release of the Tegina students comes in the run-up to the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, on 9 September.
Nigeria is set to host the Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration on 25-27 October 2021.
The theme of the Conference is “Ensuring Safe Education for All: From Commitment to Practice”. The Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment to protect education during armed conflict, has been endorsed by 108 states – including Nigeria.
The October Conference will be the first to be held in Africa and provide an opportunity to galvanise support for, and accelerate implementation of, the Declaration by bringing together governments, practitioners, and civil society to share good practice and strengthen cooperation to save lives and safeguard the right to education for all.