Nigerian children have suffered ‘unspeakable horror’ at hands of Boko Haram

Girls Education Under Attack Nigeria
Young girls walk to school in Bama camp in northeast Nigeria. Girls have been particular targets for Boko Haram militants and many were severely traumatised by years of violence (UNHCR / Helene Caux)

Chibok girls, Child soldiers, Children in conflicts, Education Cannot Wait, Education in emergencies, Girls' education, Refugees and internally displaced people, Safe schools, Safe Schools Declaration

Thousands of children have been killed, injured, abducted and recruited during a reign of terror that has also seen 1500 schools destroyed, a UN report has revealed.

The figures are appalling. At least 3900 children killed and 7300 maimed. About 1500 schools destroyed. More than 4000 girls, boys and young women abducted. Thousands of children recruited by armed forces.

This is the sad and shocking reality of life for many in the northeast of Nigeria, where militant group Boko Haram has waged war on education and human decency.

The statistics are contained in a United Nations report that outlines the impact on children of the region’s descent into violence from January 2013 to December 2016.

“With tactics including widespread recruitment and use, abductions, sexual violence, attacks on schools and the increasing use of children in so-called ‘suicide’ attacks, Boko Haram has inflicted unspeakable horror upon the children of Nigeria’s north-east and neighbouring countries,“ declared Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

She commended the government for their attempts to protect children – but called on all parties, including the military and regional forces fighting against Boko Haram, to respect schools as safe spaces and to stop the recruitment and use of children

Chibok Boko Haram 4

Work is underway to ensure children have access to safe learning spaces in northeast Nigeria (UNICEIF / Naftalin )

The abduction of more than 270 girls from their secondary school in Chibok just over three years ago made global headlines. But the report details years of attacks on education and terror tactics used against children.

Among the findings of the report published today were:

Attacks on schools

“Starting in 2011, Boko Haram targeted public and private schools that they perceived as providing a Western curriculum. In the north-east, the United Nations  estimated that 1500 schools had been destroyed since 2014, with at least 1280 casualties among teachers and students.”

Abduction of children

“During the reporting period, 567 incidents of abduction affecting 836 children (532 boys and 304 girls) were verified… it is probable that the full extent of child abductions by Boko Haram since 2013 is significantly higher. Credible reports indicate that Boko Haram has been responsible for the abduction of at least 4000 girls, boys and young women.”

Rape and sexual violence

“It is estimated by the UN that at least 7000 girls and women have suffered from sexual violence perpetrated by Boko Haram since 2009, including following abductions and during forced marriage. During the reporting period, the UN verified 199 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence affecting 217 children.”

Displaced Children Wait For Food At A Camp In Borno State Nigeria

Displaced children wait for food at a camp in Borno state, Nigeria (UNICEF/Norway)

Recruitment of children

“Estimates indicate that at least 8000 children have been recruited and used by Boko Haram since 2009. Children were used in direct hostilities, for planting improvised explosive devices and burning schools and houses and in support roles such as cooks, messengers and lookouts. Children were also reportedly used as human shields to protect Boko Haram elements during military operations.”

‘Suicide attacks’

“From mid-2015 to the end of the reporting period, as Boko Haram elements were pushed back by the Nigerian security forces, they reverted to hit-and-run attacks. They used girls to perpetrate suicide bombings and intensified the use of improvised explosive devices-as-landmines. 

“Beginning in 2014, children, and especially girls, were increasingly used in so-called ‘suicide attacks. The UN verified the use of 90 children for suicide bombings in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, the majority of whom were girls.

Gamba called on the authorities to released children who had been detained for alleged or suspected association with Boko Haram.

She said: “I welcome the efforts made to release children and to continue to provide access to the UN to facilities where children have been detained. I call on the authorities to treat boys and girls formerly associated with Boko Haram primarily as victims.”

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