Conflict zones and violence against children

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children in conflict zones around the world came under attack on a shocking scale throughout 2017 and have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, traumatised, maimed and recruited to fight. The multilateral agency further stated that apart from Nigeria’s North-East, the story is the same in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan, Myanmar, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. This gory destruction of the African continents future must stop.

Using the Boko Haram insurgency as a lens, UNICEF says the deadly sect has forced at least 135 children in northeast Nigeria and Cameroun to act as suicide bombers, almost five times the number in 2016, not mentioning their being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds. If the figures from the recent farmers-herdsmen conflicts in Nigeria are added to this magnitude is better imagined!

Specifically in Nigeria, Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to have led to the abduction of 6000 women and girls, claimed at least 20,000 lives and displaced more than 2.6 million people, majority of whom are women, girls and children. It has abducted at least 2,000 since 2014, the year it gained global notoriety for kidnapping 276 school girls from a dormitory in the village of Chibok. Furthermore, in September 2014, another 50 women were taken from the town of Gulak when Boko Haram insurgents took over the town. In late June, last year, more than 60 women and girls, as well as about 31 young men, were abducted from Damboa in Borno State.

Before mid-2013, Boko Haram had abducted a small number of women and girls, either from their homes, the streets and villages, while working on the land, fetching water or at school in the group’s then-stronghold of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, or in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State. Most of these girls are still being held in bush camps, where they endure forced labour, combat, torture and sexual slavery. Others negative impacts of the insurgency on children are violence, rape, forced marriage, malnutrition, hunger and disease, displacement, homelessness, the absence of schooling – including poor or lack of access to food, water, sanitation and health services. Therefore, whenever there is conflict, the most vulnerable social groups are children, who experience multiple horrific atrocities and catastrophes that can be characterised as traumatic and appalling.

The pains of children in conflict and war go against every moral precept, law and principle. It makes a brutal mockery of that eternal idea that through the eyes of a child the world is seen as it should be. It is unforgivable that children are assaulted, violated, murdered and yet the nation’s conscience is not pricked and its sense of dignity is not challenged. If ‘change’ would come to Nigeria for the better, there is no greater cause than the protection of children in conflict zones.

Therefore, if Nigeria can improve the lives and future of children, then the nation can transform for the better; because today’s children will one day be making the decisions that will shape the country – their families, communities, work places and government at all levels. This is against the backdrop that the perspectives, experiences, beliefs, knowledge, skills and attitudes that will determine how they carry out those tasks have their roots in childhood. It is, therefore, both a moral and strategic need for the Nigerian state to protect children from the horrors of conflicts.

Collectively, every Nigerian can contribute to the upliftment of the Nigerian child by working to de-escalate violent conflicts to which they are vulnerable. Good governance, justice and fair play will reduce conflicts in the country. On the part of citizens, they should guard their words and avoid hate speeches, manage anger, develop a culture of tolerance and embrace national cohesion. Communities should have home-grown ways of protecting children during conflicts. The media and civil society organisations should campaign against conflict, create awareness on the rule of engagements during wars and sensitize stakeholders to the local and international laws protecting children from hostilities.

At the international level, the world in 2015 agreed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – a global agenda that has ending all forms of violence against children as a goal. The Declaration on the Rights of the Child, says that “mankind owes to the child the best it has to offer” and Articles 38 and 39 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, recognise that children require special considerations stating that parties should take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by conflicts. Thus, the international community should push for stronger accountability in crimes committed against children in conflict zones and the International Criminal Court (ICC), is one of the weapons it can latch on to end this impunity. Finally, in countries experiencing conflicts, all parties should abide by the rules of engagements contained in international laws to end violence against children.

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