AJUBA, Nigeria — Several Catholic bishops in Nigeria’s state of Oyo asked the federal and state governments to consider opening schools and churches closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bishops from six dioceses in and around the city of Ibadan said the closure of schools had increased crimes such as rape and other gender-based violence, especially affecting youth.

The federal government says it might not open government-run colleges until 2021, and those graduating from high school might miss their exit exams.

But in a statement after a mid-July meeting, the bishops said since the citizens had begun to adjust to the methods of preventing and living with the pandemic, civil authorities should reconsider the reopening of schools “in a manner that is safe for our children, pupils and staff.”

Regarding an increase of rape in the country, the bishops call it “reprehensible and a horrific sign of moral decadence and decency deficiency in our society.”

“Since all are born of women, rape does not only hurt women, it is also the greatest form of self-degradation by the very perpetrators,” the bishops said. “It is a crime deserving of the strictest corrective punishment and is a sin against God.”

They advised parents to do more in teaching their children about honoring and respecting other people, especially women and girls.

“Fathers must lay good example for their children by how they themselves treat their mothers and wives, because children may forget what we say, but they never forget what they see us do,” the bishops said.

They also urged more collaboration with religious leaders on decisions affecting places of worship.

“With facts and figures backing up the arguments and especially as we are in a democracy, decisions that involve large numbers of the people in such a key sector as religion must be seen to be consultative,” they said.

The statement reiterated past statements by some of the nation’s Catholic bishops regarding corruption, urging all citizens to “do the right thing at all times.”

By mid-July, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 206.1 million people, had confirmed fewer than 35,000 COVID-19 cases and fewer than 800 deaths.