By Abraham Olatokunbo
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for stringent effort towards the protection of children’s rights, lamenting that more than 3,500 children have been recruited and used by non-state armed groups in north-east Nigeria since 2013.
UNICEF, in a statement on Thursday marking five years since the abduction of over 200 Chibok schoolgirls, said: “More than 3,500 children, most of whom were aged 13 to 17, were recruited by non-state armed groups between 2013 and 2017 and have been used in the ongoing armed conflict in north-east Nigeria – UNICEF said today ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Chibok abduction.”
The UN children’s agency revealed that “these numbers are only those that have been verified, while the true figures are likely to be higher.”
The statement lamented that: “In addition to these children, 432 children were killed and maimed, 180 were abducted, and 43 girls were sexually abused in north-east Nigeria in 2018.
“Meanwhile, more than 100 of the abducted Chibok girls remain missing.”
The statement added that: “The anniversary of the abduction, marked on 14 April, is a grim reminder that widespread abductions of children and grave violations of children’s rights continue to take place in the north-east.”
The statement quoting Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, said: “Children should feel safe at home, in schools and on their playgrounds at all times.”
He said: “We are calling on the parties to the conflict to fulfil their obligations under international law to end violations against children and to stop targeting civilian infrastructure, including schools. This is the only way we can begin to make lasting improvements in the lives of children in this devastated part of Nigeria.”
The statement lamented that: “Since 2012, non-state armed groups in north-east Nigeria have recruited and used children as combatants and non-combatants, raped and forced girls to marry, and committed other grave violations against children. Some of the girls become pregnant in captivity and give birth without any medical care or attention.
It said UNICEF continues to offer its support to the Government of Nigeria in its strong efforts to protect the country’s children. UNICEF works with the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and other partners to support children who have been rescued or escaped from captivity.
It added that: “In 2017 and 2018, UNICEF and its partners provided community-based reintegration services to more than 9,800 people formerly associated with armed groups, as well as vulnerable children in communities. These services help to trace children’s families, return them to their communities, and offer psychosocial support, education, vocational training, informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods.”