By Ndidi Chukwu
A year on from the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have said that the devastating impact of conflict on children have doubled since the last one year. A press release by the charity, says about 800,000 children have been forced to flee violence in Nigeria and region. It said, “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 UNICEF report cited the fight in northeast Nigeria between Boko Haram, military forces and civilian self-defense groups as the reason why so many Nigerian children have become more vulnerable to conflicts.
“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.
He said “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 figures come as UNICEF draws attention to the devastating impact of the conflict on children across the region using the hashtag #bringbackourchildhood. The press statement said the “Missing Childhoods” outlines how the conflict is exerting a heavy toll on children in Nigeria and across the region in an increasing number of ways:
“Children are being used within the ranks of Boko Haram – as combatants, cooks, porters and look-outs , young women and girls are being subjected to forced marriage, forced labour and rape.”
Students and teachers have been deliberately targeted – with more than 300 schools damaged or destroyed and at least 196 teachers and 314 schoolchildren killed by the end of 2014. UNICEF has also stepped up its humanitarian response to the crisis. Over the past six months as it has provided over 60,000 children affected by the conflict 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.