NEW DELHI: UNICEF has said that the insurgency being led by militant group Boko Haram has kept more than one million children out of school in Nigeria.

Violence and attacks against civilian populations in northeastern Nigeria and its neighbouring countries have forced “a staggering” one million children out of school in a conflict that has dealt “a huge blow for education in the region,” UNICEF said in a new report.

“Across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, over 2,000 schools remain closed due to the conflict – some of them for more than a year – and hundreds have been attacked, looted or set on fire,” UNICEF said. “In far north Cameroon, only one out of the 135 schools closed in 2014 has re-opened this year.”

UNICEF also reported that the number of children missing out on their education due to the conflict adds to the estimated 11 million children of primary school age who were already out of school in the four countries before the onset of the crisis.

“It’s a staggering number,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s West and Central Africa Regional Director.

“The conflict has been a huge blow for education in the region, and violence has kept many children out of the classroom for more than a year, putting them at risk of dropping out of school altogether,” added Mr. Fontaine.

In addition, Nigeria alone, approximately 600 teachers have been killed since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency.

UNICEF said it has supported 170,000 children back into education in the safer areas of the three states most in Nigeria affected by the conflict, where the majority of schools have been able to re-open.

“The challenge we face is to keep children safe without interrupting their schooling,” said Mr. Fontaine. “Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom; yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups,” he explained.

In recent months, the militant group has stepped up violence, displacing 2.1 million people in NIgeria. However, the impact of the violence unleashed by Boko Haram has disappeared from headlines altogether, with the world at one point being obsessed with the #BringBackOurGirls movement. The movement referred to the kidnapping of over 300 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, with the incident dominating headlines.

Since then, Boko Haram have gained in strength, with over a thousand people having been killed since President Buhari assumed power in Nigeria end of May. Despite the violence continuing, and the number of IDPs exponentially increasing -- the world has remained largely silent, with the Boko Haram insurgency being relegated to the inner pages of publications.

The origins of Boko Haram, the official name of which is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad", sheds light on the specific social-economic context that has determined developments. As parts of Nigeria fell under British control in 1903, locals came to view western education with suspicion, and this resistance continued as Nigeria gained independence, with many muslim families refusing to send their children to government run “western schools.” The problem was compounded by the lack of priority given to education by the state government.

Located in this context, in 2002, Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri with the intention of setting up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school. Many families across Nigeria and the region enrolled their children in Yusuf’s school. The movement did not remain restricted to education, with the eventual aim of an Islamic state being conceived within the struggle for power that was rooted in an anti-western discourse. In 2009, the group carried out a series of attacks on official buildings in Maiduguri. The group was defeated and Yusuf was killed, but fighters regrouped and in 2010, attacked a prison in Bauchi state, setting free hundreds of the groups’ supporters.

Since then, the group’s attacks have increased in severity.The context is far more complicated than a mere religious rendering can do justice to. Nigerian American author and columnist offered a voice of reason when he tweeted: “I understand the impulse to "do something." But Boko Haram is irreducibly complex. Makes Kony look like child's play” and “The history of the Nigerian military "doing something" about Boko Haram has been one of mass murder of civilians.”

Tackling Boko Haram involves reducing the region’s chronic poverty and building an education system which gains the support of local muslims - measures which are not being given priority by anyone in Nigeria or outside.