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In pictures: The girls living on the front line of Africa’s new war

In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school (Picture: Seyba Keita/Adrien Bitibaly/Apsatou Bagaya/Save the Children)

Save the Children has released a series of photographs highlighting the education crisis facing young girls living on the front line of Africa’s deadly conflict in the central Sahel.

Photographers Apsatou Bagaya, Adrien Bitibaly and Seyba Keita travelled across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger with the charity to document the stories of girls whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the violence.

These countries are in the middle of an education crisis, with last year alone seeing more than 4,000 schools shut due to attacks from armed groups.

T​he images capture the girls’ stories of loss, fear and sadness, but also resilience, strength and hope as they and their families strive to ensure the girls get an education. 

Save the Children points out that, in nations impacted by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than their counterparts in countries seeing periods of peace, and are at a disproportionate risk of dropping out completely, adolescent pregnancy, and forced marriage.

According to reliefweb, more than half of the girls in Niger and Mali enrolled in primary school don’t continue into secondary education, and only 1% of girls have completed secondary school in Burkina Faso.

Kadidia*, 14, and her parents were determined that the violence sweeping Africa???s Sahel region ??? including her homeland Mali ??? wasn???t going to end her chances of completing her education. ???With the outbreak of the conflict, my parents said they didn't want me to stop going to school. I didn't want to stop school either. That's why they brought me here.??? Kadidia can now go to a Save the Children-supported school, which is helping children caught up in the violence, in her new home in the region of Mopti. She knows the value of education ??? especially in a culture where early marriage can force girls to give up school and dreams of a career. She???s settled into her new life brilliantly ??? thanks in large part to her aunt, who treats Kadidia like a daughter. Now she can get back to being a child again, playing with friends and concentrating on her studies. She has high hopes for the future too. ???The subjects I like the most are physics chemistry, mathematics and biology, because I want to be a doctor to take care of my people and the people of my village.???

Kadidia*, 14, and her parents were determined that the violence sweeping their homeland wasn’t going to stop her finishing her education (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)
Kadidia said: ‘With the outbreak of the conflict, my parents said they didn’t want me to stop going to school. I didn’t want to stop school either. (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)
Kadidia can now go to a Save the Children-supported school (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)
She’s settled into her new life well, thanks in large part to her aunt, who treats Kadidia like a daughter (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)

Kadidia* left her family ad village in Mali after the schools were closed by armed groups.

She’s living with her aunt so that she can continue her education.

She said: ‘There was a school in our village. The school closed when people took up arms. That’s why I came here to study.

‘School is important for girls. When you’re educated, you have knowledge.

‘The difficulty faced by girls, especially in villages, is that when you become a teenager, it’s deemed absolutely necessary to be married.’

Kadidia said: ‘The subjects I like the most are physics chemistry, mathematics and biology, because I want to be a doctor to take care of my people and the people of my village (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)
Aissata said: ‘Before the conflict, we were at peace, no one was afraid. Today, everyone is afraid.’ (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)
Aissata decided to register for a school supported by Save the Children, and is making up for lost time (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)
Aissata said: I found that the others had already started classes. I worked hard, I persevered and overtook them. And I became top of the class.’ (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)

Aissata*, 11, from Mali, explained how armed men came to her town one day.

She said: ‘They shot and demanded everyone to stay home. I have not forgotten that day. I was scared.’

She hasn’t given up her hope for the future however, and has registered for a school supported by Save the Children.

Even though she had some catching up to do, she overtook her peers to become top of the class.

She has to work at the market to help support her family, which tires her out, but she has dreams of being a doctor ‘to care for people in my community.’

To support her family, Aissata still has to work at the market, which disrupts her studies. She said: ‘I don’t like working at the market because it damages my education. Going to the market tires me out. When I get home, I can’t study because I’m too tired (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)
Aissata is attending a school supported by Save the Children (Picture: Seyba Keita / Save the Children)
Dioura’s family was forced to flee and start a new life (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)
Dioura is one of 5 million children caught up in a growing humanitarian crisis across the Sahel (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)

Dioura*, 12, was forced to leave her home in Niger when armed insurgents attacked her village.

Her school was set on fire during the fighting, and she now lives with her family in a camp for the internally displaced.

Life in the camps isn’t easy and food is hard to come by.

Both of Dioura’s parents are out of work, and sometimes she has to go to bed hungry.

Dioura said: ‘I know myself: I am intelligent, a hard worker and merciful.’ (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)
Dioura’s village in Niger was attacked by armed insurgents (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)
Dioura said: ‘Sometimes we eat, other times we sleep with an empty belly – that’s our life here’ (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)

However, she is back in school and wants to study to help others, saying: ‘I would like to become a doctor when I finish my studies.’

‘I know myself: I am intelligent, a hard worker and merciful,’ she added.

Samira and her family fled with nothing to start a new life in Yatenga province (Picture: Adrien Bitibaly / Save the Children)
Samira’s uncle Mohamed* said: ‘They took all our belongings. We didn’t take anything. They gave us three days to leave the village.’ (Picture: Adrien Bitibaly / Save the Children)
Samira’s teacher, Ouédraogo Sidiki, described her as ‘shy’ and said: ‘She had trauma related to displacement, to attacks’ (Picture: Adrien Bitibaly / Save the Children)
Samira was out of school for two years (Picture: Adrien Bitibaly / Save the Children)

Armed men forced Samira*, 15, and her family to flee from their village in Burkina Faso.

As a result, her education had to grind to a halt, and she was out of school for two years.

Despite the threat of forced marriage that hangs over many young girls in that region of Burkina Faso, Samira is now enrolled in school and is hoping to catch up with extra lessons.

She said: ‘I came here to study. I want support classes. I want to be successful.’

Balkissa said: ‘[They] killed people in and outside the village. We were shocked.’ (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)
Balkissa is now at a Save the Children-supported school (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)
Balkissa’s mother said: ‘Thanks to God, [she] has resumed her studies, though she spent about two months at home. I cannot decide for her what she wants to become, but God will.’ (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)
Balkissa and her family had to flee their home two and a half years ago (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)
She wants to be a teacher when she grows up (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)
‘We were at peace before the arrival of the insurgents,’ said Balkissa (Picture: Apsatou Bagaya / Save the Children)

Each of the girls has been supported by Save the Children and the EU’s programme in response to the Sahel Crisis.

While the programme is not funded by UK aid, Save the Children considers reports that the UK Government will cut aid by 90% to the region ‘extremely worrying.’  

Kirsty McNeill, executive director of policy, advocacy and campaigns of Save the Children UK said: ‘The fact that today, thousands of children around the world are demanding their basic right to education must inspire leaders everywhere that they can and must prioritise children’s learning. 

‘The Prime Minister has rightly made girls’ education a priority, but without the right investment, this is just an empty promise.

‘The UK Government should reverse the aid cuts, make tangible commitments to turn the targets they initiated in the G7 Girls’ Education Declaration a reality and invest £600 million over the next 5 years in the Global Partnership for Education in addition to the £400 million already committed to girls’ education this year. 

‘The pandemic has brought with it a global education emergency alongside a health one. If leaders are to crack these crises, they need to start by listening to children about the kind of world they want to inherit.’

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