UN Special Representative Urges Action to Protect Children in Nigeria’s War-torn Northeast

Children growing up in Nigeria’s crisis-riven northeast are in desperate need of protection from relentless violence, said Leila Zerrougui, the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, today as she wrapped up a weeklong visit in the country.

On a day when the UN refugee agency has reported a steady stream of people fleeing violence in the region with ‘harrowing tales of killings and destruction,’ a news release from Ms. Zerrougui’s Office notes that throughout 2014, the armed conflict in north-eastern Nigeria was one of the world’s deadliest for children.

There was a dramatic rise in violence, growing recruitment and use of children, sometimes very young, as well as countless abductions and attacks on schools, said the release, underscoring Ms. Zerrougui’s concern at reports of sexual violence against girls, including forced marriages and rapes.

The beginning of 2015 brought relentless violence with the appalling suicide bombing committed by a girl allegedly as young as 10, killing several people in a market in Maiduguri, as well as what some organizations have termed as Boko Haram’s deadliest attack in Baga.

During her week-long visit to Nigeria, Ms. Zerrougui assessed the conflict’s impact on children. She met the country’s federal authorities, the authorities of Adamawa State, the UN, the diplomatic community, civil society and other partners to galvanize efforts to gather and verify information on grave violations committed against children.

This will help the Government and its partners provide better protection for children and promote accountability.

In Yola, the Special Representative met with displaced people from the conflict-affected areas, including children and women.

“I witnessed people’s shock and disbelief at the devastation suffered by their communities. I saw trauma in children’s eyes. The scale of the suffering is beyond what I anticipated to find. The people I met demand and deserve urgent protection” said Ms. Zerrougui.

In northern Nigeria, over 900, 000 people, many of them women and children, have fled their homes. More than 300 schools have been severely damaged or destroyed, hundreds of children have been killed, injured or abducted from their homes and schools, said the release.

The Special Representative was encouraged by her open dialogue with Nigerian authorities and their commitment to collaborate with the United Nations, investigate allegations of violations committed against children and take the necessary actions to hold perpetrators accountable.

“I commend the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for his willingness to respond to reports of recruitment and use of children by government-affiliated self-defense groups in the three north-eastern states. He has agreed to issue an advisory recalling the prohibition of such a practice,” said Ms. Zerrougui.

The Special Representative also met with the representatives of the movement ‘Bring Back our Girls’ and remains deeply concerned by the fate of the more than 200 school girls abducted in Chibok in April 2014. She is equally concerned by the fate of all children abducted by Boko Haram.

The UN continues its advocacy with Nigerian authorities and supports all efforts that could lead to the children’s release, said the release.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This article was originally published by the UN News Centre

Listen to Leila Zerrougui on UN Radio