Tomorrow makes it a year since more than 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno State, northeast Nigeria by Islamist group Boko Haram. While hopes are kept alive that they will one day be reunited with their families, several children are still being forced to leave their homes as attacks by the militants continue.
According to a new report from UNICEF, about 800,000 children have been forced to flee their homes as the six-year-old onslaught by the militant group is now being heavily repelled by military forces and civilian self-defence groups.
The report titled Missing Childhoods reveals that the number of children running for their lives within Nigeria, or crossing over the border to Chad, Niger and Cameroon, has more than doubled in just less than a year.
“The abduction of more than 200 girls in Chibok is only one of endless tragedies being replicated on an epic scale across Nigeria and the region,” says Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Scores of girls and boys have gone missing in Nigeria – abducted, recruited by armed groups, attacked, used as weapons, or forced to flee violence. They have the right to get their childhoods back”
“Scores of girls and boys have gone missing in Nigeria – abducted, recruited by armed groups, attacked, used as weapons, or forced to flee violence. They have the right to get their childhoods back.”
The report beams the spotlight on how the conflict in Nigeria’s northeast is affecting children in the country and across the border regions in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Children abducted by Boko Haram are being used as combatants, cooks, porters and look-outs, while young women and girls are being subjected to forced marriage, forced labour and rape. The militant have deliberately targeted students and teachers – with more than 300 schools damaged or destroyed and at least 196 teachers and 314 schoolchildren killed by the end of 2014.
In order to help children, who are in critical danger as a result of insecurity caused by the conflict between Boko Haram, military forces and civilian self-defence groups in the region, UNICEF has stepped up its humanitarian response to the crisis.
The UN agency has, over the past six months, provided over 60,000 affected children in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad with counselling and psychosocial support to help them ease the pain of their memories, reduce stress and cope with emotional distress.
It is also working with partners to provide safe water and life-saving health services, restore access to education by creating temporary learning spaces, and deliver therapeutic treatment to malnourished children.