By Ngala Killian Chimtom Catholic News Service
YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon (CNS) -- Catholic bishops in English-speaking western regions of Cameroon have expressed concern that, with a civil war going on, children might not be able to enjoy their right to education this year.
The regions that make up about 20% of Cameroon's nearly 27 million people have been devastated by nearly six years of war, with separatists fighting to create a new country to be called Ambazonia. The Cameroonian government says at least 4,000 people have been killed and more than a million forced to flee from their homes during the war.
Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute said there has been a 72% drop in school enrollment in the breakaway region between 2017 and 2022. The United Nations says more than 700,000 children have been forced out of school, and two out of three schools in the breakaway region have been closed as a result of the violence.
The new school year is set to resume Sept. 5.
"Today, we have many children who are not able to go to school," Father Zephyrinus Mbuh, the bishops' deputy national Catholic education secretary, told Catholic News Service. "It's so painful to see the future of our children sacrificed this way."
He said schools have been burned and teachers and students have been killed or kidnapped as the war rages on.
The bishops from the region met in mid-August, and, besides the separatist crisis, they said they were worried about "the growing frequency of drug abuse and violence registered in schools all over the country."
On at least three occasions, police have caught students in orgies, and there have been reports of students killing teachers or their peers.
"Such acts of self-destruction can seriously compromise the attainment of the goals of education in schools," the Western bishops said.
They called for a holistic approach to address the problem.
"The government should intensify sensitization on the damaging effects of indulging in the abuse of drugs and in violence, and also reinforce the application of measures aimed at preventing the sale, circulation and use of illegal drugs. All distribution units should be identified and closed down," the bishops said.
They also encouraged parental involvement in their students' education and urged schools to provide psychosocial support.
Young people should become "the evangelizers of their peers. No one can do this better than they," the bishops emphasized.
Responding to reports of theft, "kidnapping, assassination, lynching, armed robbery, and the reckless use of force by some armed groups and some security agencies," they called for dialogue to solve problems, because "violence begets violence."