Most of the Chadian Koranic students who fled Boko Haram related violence in northern Nigeria to return to their country in March 2012, have now been reunited with their parents, say the International Organization for Migration and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Some 575 of the 1,000 migrants who fled Nigeria were children, 80 percent of them unaccompanied by their parents, and travelling with their marabout, or Koranic teacher.
For months the migrants stayed in villages in and around N’Gouboua in the Lac region of western Chad, where local families, the local authorities and aid agencies gave them food, shelter and education materials.
Since March, UNICEF, the Chadian Red Cross and the Ministry of Social Action have reunited 340 children with their families in 48 villages.
UNICEF and the local authorities are still searching for the families of the remaining children, who may otherwise end up returning to Nigeria with their marabouts, said Bakary Sogoba, head of Child Protection for UNICEF in Chad.
Several Koranic schools in northeastern Nigeria have a very good reputation, he noted, while stressing that children are best-protected in their family structures.
Thousands of families across West Africa send their children away to learn the Koran under the guidance of a religious teacher or imam. While some schools have decent reputations, the unaccompanied minors often spend much of their day begging rather than learning; they receive little to no health care, get inadequate food, and face abuse, according to an April 2010 Human Rights Watch report entitled Off the Backs of Children.
Koranic students are barred from pursuing a formal education with recognized qualifications , and there is now an added risk that Koranic schools may be infiltrated with Boko Haram-inspired ideology, Sogoba warned.
Agencies and the Ministry of Social Action aim to monitor each child’s progress once he or she has been reunited with their family, as the process can be difficult: many children were initially sent away as their family could not afford to raise them.