United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has said about 8,000 children have recruited in fighting the war against Nigeria since the start of the Boko Haram crisis in the North East in 2009.
The UN agency, while calling for a step-up of effort to protect child victims and witnesses in terrorism-related proceedings in Nigeria, said that reports have shown that some boys and girls were increasingly being used as human shields and to detonate bombs.
A statement on Wednesday said: “According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) report from the Handbook of Children Recruited and exploited by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups, since 2009, about 8,000 children have been recruited and used by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Some boys have been forced to attack their own families to demonstrate loyalty to Boko Haram, while girls have been forced to marry, clean, cook and carry equipment and weapons.”
The statement added that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) received consistent reports that some boys and girls were increasingly being used as human shields and to detonate bombs, citing that in May 2015, for example, a girl about 12 years old was used to detonate a bomb at a bus station in Damaturu, Yobe State, killing seven people. Similar incidents were reported in Cameroon and Niger Republic.
The statement further said that the recently released propaganda video by ISWAP, showing children being taught military skills to train them for fighting and the latest attack on the Chibok community in Borno State by ISWAP are a reminder of the importance to step up the efforts aimed to protect children from terrorist groups.
The statement revealed that UNODC, working closely with national counterparts have recently started to provide support aimed at preventing and responding to violence against children by terrorist and violent extremist groups, under a new European funded project called “STRIVE Juvenile.”
Project Manager of STRIVE Juvenile, Bianca Kopp, said UNODC acknowledged during the opening of a recent capacity building workshop that “we have all sadly become familiar – unfortunately – with the phenomenon of child recruitment and exploitation by terrorist groups, noting that “indeed, the kidnapping of the Chibok girls was probably the first event that brought global attention to the brutality of these groups towards children and, even more crucially, it showed how children play a key role in their criminal tactics.”
UNODC lamented that: “Thousands of children have since then been recruited, exploited as servants, cooks, spies, in hostilities, and even used to carry out suicide attacks. When these children exit the groups, they have experienced prolonged violence, their bonds to the communities have been severed, and their personal development has been warped. As thousands of people, including children, are currently leaving the ranks of the groups to rejoin society, the urgency of appropriate responses increases.”
The statement quoted Doctor Ifeakandu, from the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Nigeria, to have said:
“Terrorism remain one of the most potent challenges to Nigeria,” adding that “children are disproportionately affected by it and we need to find responses in line with their best interests”.
Acknowledging the primary responsibility of state authorities to support the children’s trajectories of rehabilitation and reintegration, and to that end require specialized training to respond to the complex needs of these children and address the victimization that they have experienced, Rear Admiral YEM Musa, from the Office of the National Security Adviser, emphasized that “Investment in rehabilitation and peace, especially as it concerns our children, is essential to end the cycle of violence that is generated and exploited by the terrorists and violent extremists”.
This was also echoed by the representative of the European Union, Mr. Jerome Rivière by stressing that the STRIVE Juvenile project “recognizes the importance of children’s role as agents of peace and in their potential to transform societal dynamics. (…) When children and families do not feel safe, counterterrorism cannot work”.
The recent workshop held in Abuja allowed Nigerian and international experts from the security sector, the justice system, and the child protection sector to discuss national context and practices, strategies for child sensitive and trauma informed interaction with children, as well as means of protection of these children throughout the justice process.
The workshop is part of a series of activities under the STRIVE Juvenile project. STRIVE Juvenile in Nigeria is a joint UNODC-EU project that aims to increase resilience of children and society against violent extremist and terrorist tactics.