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Boko Haram's tactics terrorize children in Nigeria

People gather at the site of a suicide bomb attack at a market in June 2015 in Maiduguri, Nigeria, where two girls blew themselves up near a crowded mosque. Jossy Ola/AP

Boys and girls in northeast Nigeria continued to endure gruesome violations at the hands of Boko Haram and to be deeply affected by military operations against the group by Government Forces despite noteworthy efforts and commitments, highlighted the second country report of Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Nigeria released today.

The report described 5,741 grave violations against children between January 2017 and December 2019 in Nigeria; incidents in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger were also reflected in the context of the spillover of Boko Haram’s activities beyond Nigeria’s borders.

“The children of Nigeria and neighboring countries continued to endure horrendous violations by Boko Haram and the expansion of the group’s activities across the Lake Chad Basin region is a serious concern for the Secretary-General,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. She also stressed the need to provide a regional African response to the situation.

The recruitment and use of children accounted for the greatest number of verified violations, with a total of 3,601 boys and girls affected. Boko Haram was responsible for the recruitment and use of 1,385 children, mainly through abduction, used in direct hostilities and in a variety of support roles including as sexual slaves. One particular and especially despicable practice of Boko Haram was to use children, mainly girls, as carriers of personnel-borne improvised explosive devices, also known as “human bombs.”

More than 2,000 violations were cases of recruitment and use of children by the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) before September 2017, when the group signed an Action Plan with the United Nations to end and prevent the violation. The UN was able to verify these cases as the CJTF granted them access to their military barracks in the framework of the Action Plan.

The number of children detained for their or their parents’ actual or alleged association with Boko Haram remained a grave concern, but actual numbers were difficult to assess since the United Nations was not granted access to facilities and to the children. “Children formerly associated should not be further penalized through detention and I call on the Government of Nigeria to expedite the release of children from detention and prioritize their reintegration into society. I also urge the Government to review and adopt the protocol for the handover of children associated with armed groups to civilian child protection actors,” said Virginia Gamba.

1,433 child casualties were verified, the vast majority attributed to Boko Haram, and the leading cause of child casualties remained suicide attacks. 64 incidents of sexual violence affecting 204 children were verified and as for all other situations on the children and armed conflict agenda, the violation is considered to be vastly underreported for fear of stigma, retaliation, lack of accountability for perpetrators and lack of resources for survivors.

With 55 verified incidents, denial of humanitarian access to children continued to result in the temporary suspension of humanitarian activities and affected the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands of children. Some of the most atrocious incidents by Boko Haram involved the abduction and execution of humanitarian workers.

Progress for the Protection of Boys and Girls

The signature by the CJTF of an Action Plan with the United Nations in September 2017 marked a turning point in ending and preventing the recruitment and use of children by the group. “Progress has been consistent, and no new cases of recruitment and use have been verified since the signature of the Action Plan. I encourage the CJTF to fully implement its Action Plan and to facilitate the disassociation of any remaining children,” added Virginia Gamba.

A total of 3,794 children formerly associated with armed groups benefited from reintegration support by UNICEF implementing partners, including medical services, psychosocial support as well as education or vocational training. “Providing adequate, sustainable and long-term reintegration programs is essential to ensuring that these girls and boys benefit from the necessary support to rebuild their lives and allow them to safely return to their families and reintegrate into their communities,” reminded Virginia Gamba who further urged donors to enhance their financial support to these programs. “I call on the authorities of Nigeria to strengthen their commitment to released children and to sign the Paris Principles,” she added.

She commended the work of child protection and humanitarian partners on the ground, operating in often dire conditions, and called upon all parties to respect the civilian character of schools and hospitals and to allow safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors to affected populations.

She reminded that the United Nations stands ready to continue to support the Government of Nigeria and international partners to address the challenges and ensure a better protection of Nigerian children from armed clashes.

Key numbers from January 2017 to December 2019 (all verified numbers):

Recruitment and use: 3,601 boys and girls affected

Killing and maiming: 1,433 boys and girls affected

Sexual violence: 204 children affected

Attacks on schools and hospitals: 35 incidents

Abductions: 413 children affected

Denial of humanitarian access: 55 incidents

© OSRSG 2020

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