April 12, 2017

'Education is the way to defeat Boko Haram' says girl victim

Yekoura, 12, enjoys school for the first time after being the victim of a suicide attack in Baga Sola, Chad, in 2015

Photo credit: UNICEF / Bahaji

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

Days before the third anniversary of the Chibok girls abductions, a report has revealed an alarming rise in the number of children being used to carry out bomb attacks for the militant group.

Huge numbers of children have had their lives decimated by the scourge of the militant group Boko Haram.

More than 1.3 million have been displaced by the ongoing conflict in the Lake Chad region and 123,000 are now refugees in neighbouring countries.

Hundreds of schools have been attacked and thousands of children have lost out on education because of security fears.

Now a shocking new report - released two days before the third anniversary of the abduction of more than 270 schoolgirls at Chibok - has revealed an alarming rise in the number of children used to carry out bomb attacks in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

A girl at a camp for internally displaced people at Malea, Chad. Conflict is exacting a heavy toll on children affecting not just their wellbeing and their safety but also their access to basic needs

Photo credit: UNICEF / Bahaji

There have been 27 such attacks by children so far in 2017 - compared with nine in the same period last year. Girls were used in the majority of the attacks, said the report by UNICEF called Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crisis.

Now girls, boys and even infants are being viewed with increasing fear at markets and checkpoints in case they are carrying explosives.

“These children are victims, not perpetrators,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.”

One girl made to carry a bomb for Boko Haram is Amina from Chad. She was 16 when she was forced into an attempted attack with three other girls.

She lost both her legs when two detonated their explosives. Amina is back with her family but the report said: "She is in urgent need of support to prevent her from being excluded by the community. 

"She wants to get an education and find a way to support herself."

Education is a recurring theme among the young victims of Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden".

Children running in the sport field of the newly built School of Peace in the IDP site of Kousseri, near Baga Sola in Chad.

Photo credit: UNICEF / Bahaji

Tabita from Nigeria fled to Cameroon after armed men demanded her family pay money if she didn't marry one of them. She now lives in refugee camp.

"It took me a very long time to find myself comfortable in the camp, to meet new friends and to go back to school," she said. 

"But in Minawao, I was supported and I even became the leader of a girls club. My role is to
talk about issues girls are facing in the camp, what options they have and the risks they face.

"Everyone talks about education. Education is the best way to defeat Boko Haram for good."

Eleven-year-old Mariam Abakar is enrolled in the new School of Peace in Baga Sola, Chad. She said: "I was in another school before. We could not even breathe in the classroom because we were too many children. I love my new classroom."

Photo credit: UNICEF / Bahaji

Zara Idriss, a 15-year-old internally displaced girl in Chad, said: "I have never been to school before. I was living on an island in the Lake Chad when Boko Haram attacked our village. 

"Now I have the opportunity to go to school and I wish I could take a plane to discover the world."

The report said 117 children have been used to carry out bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon since 2014 - four in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 27 only in the first three months of 2017.

It said many girls have been snatched from their families at night and forced into early marriage or sexual slavery. Many as young as 13 became pregnant in captivity.

More than 312,000 children have received psychosocial support from UNICEF in the four countries.

April 14 is the third anniversary of the Chibok abductions, when Boko Haram raided the Government Girls School and took more than 270 girls. 

Some escaped, others have been rescued - but almost 200 are still missing.

Boko Haram has destroyed more than 900 schools in Nigeria and forced 1500 more to close.

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