*says condemnation not enough
By; ALEX UANGBAOJE, Kaduna
Following the recent abduction of about 150 students in Kaduna State, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed worries over the increasing frequency of kidnapping and the safety of children in Northern part of Nigeria and the country at large.
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore in a statement said “Such incidents appear to be increasing in frequency, raising fears for the safety and wellbeing of the region’s children”.
Fore, said It is not enough to condemn these crimes, not when millions of children face a worsening protection crisis, adding that Children living in these areas need concerted action to ensure that they can safely live, go to school or fetch water without fear of being attacked or taken from their families.
The statement reads; “Marking the latest incident in an alarming spate of attacks against children and abductions, including of students, in parts of West and Central Africa, concerned be that as in years past, non-state armed groups and parties to conflict in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger and Nigeria will ramp up these violent activities over the coming weeks ahead of the rainy season when their movements could be restricted by flooding”.
“Already in 2020, according to the latest report of the United Nations Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, 1 in 3 child victims of grave violations has been in West and Central Africa”.
UNICEF further expressed that more than 1.2 million people, 61 per cent of whom are children, are now displaced because of violence – a ten-fold increase in just the last three years.
It said the west and central zone of Africa is facing a lot of security threats, saying in Burkina Faso, attacks against civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law have spiked significantly in recent weeks.
UNICEF also stated that in Cameroon, members of an armed group attacked a religious center in Mamfe on 6 June, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding a 16-year-old boy. Attacks on civilians, abductions and killings of school children and teachers are on the rise across the northwest and southwest parts of the country.
“We estimate that 1 million children in Cameroon need protection from violence. Threats against aid workers are similarly increasing. Dozens of staff working for local NGOs have been attacked, abducted or killed. The first targeted attack on a UN humanitarian convoy occurred this past March”.
“In the first three months of 2021, we also witnessed an overwhelming increase of child rights violations across the Central African Republic, in a context of growing insecurity and tension linked to the 2020 general elections. Recorded cases of sexual violence against girls increased almost fivefold between the last quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 – from 10 to 49. The number of children recorded as killed or maimed was also seven times higher in early 2021 than towards the end of 2020, while attacks or occupations of schools and hospitals increased from 30 to 44 over the same period”.
“Attacks against children, families and schools are also occurring in Niger. So far this year, armed groups have killed nearly 300 people, including 45 children, in coordinated assaults on villages in the Tillábery and Tahoua regions. In some of these incidents, perpetrators targeted families fetching water. Up to 80 per cent of children living in areas most affected by violence need psychosocial support because of the distress they experience.
In Nigeria, the UNICEF estimated that at least 950 students have been abducted from their schools by armed men since December, saying over the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents across the central and northwest parts of the country.
“Many of these children have not yet been returned. It is hard to fathom the pain and fear that their families and loved ones are suffering in their absence”, UNICEF said.
They charged international donors to increase their contributions so that it can expand the work to reduce children’s vulnerabilities and increase their resilience to keep them safe from harm, reiterating that these efforts include creating safe temporary learning environments for children in areas where schools have been closed because of insecurity, providing psychosocial support to children affected by violence, and supporting education on mine risk awareness.
“Every effort must be made to reverse the spiraling protection crisis for children as the region is on the brink of catastrophe.”