NIGERIA AND THE CHILDREN OF WAR

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Efforts should be renewed to end the abuse of children

In an assault that has become commonplace, some members of ISWAP, a breakaway faction of Boko Haram, last weekend raided Monguno in Borno State and killed many civilians – including an innocent four-year-old girl. It is a grim reminder of the fate of children in conflict zones, coming a few days after the world marked the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression. It is also a reminder that the insurgents that have been declared ‘technically defeated’ are still very much in business.

Apparently moved by the horror and aggression against thousands of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese children by Israel, the United Nations in 1982 set aside June 4 every year to draw attention to the pain and suffering of children who are victims of emotional, mental and physical abuse. The day also affirms the United Nations’ commitment to protect the rights of children the world over. According to the London-based International Charity, ‘Save the Children’, about 420 million children are living in conflict situations. Of the lot, children in Africa are the worst affected, with 170 million living in war zones. The affected countries often listed are Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, which is the head of the pack.

That can hardly be disputed as the country is suffused in armed conflict. From the Northeast which has been home to a protracted insurgency since 2009, to the Northwest which is becoming increasingly laid waste by banditry, to the North central weighed down by farmer-herder crisis, children are the greatest victims. This is particularly so because of their vulnerability. Conflict situations have created children who are separated from their families, unprotected, starved, forced out of school, conscripted and exposed to violence and systematically abused. Hundreds of thousands of children are dying every day as a result of indirect effects of conflict – including malnutrition, disease, inadequate healthcare, and poor sanitation. Indeed, for Boko Haram, sexual violence is openly used as a weapon of war. The 2014 kidnap of the Chibok schoolgirls and many others are poignant examples. Besides the mental and physical torture, exposing children to armed conflict increases their risk of morbidity and mortality.

A recent report by Amnesty International acknowledged widespread and unlawful detention and torture by Nigerian security forces of a generation of children and tens of thousands of people in north-east Nigeria. At least 10,000 victims – many of them children – have died in military detention, among the many thousands more arrested during a decade-long conflict. Joanne Mariner, acting director of crisis response at Amnesty International, called on the authorities to investigate the “appalling” treatment of victims. “From mass, unlawful detention in inhumane conditions, to meting out beatings and torture and allowing sexual abuse by adult inmates – it defies belief that children anywhere would be so grievously harmed by the very authorities charged with their protection,” she said.

Last week, the minister of women’s affairs Pauline Tallen said the federal government has put in place strategies, including advocacy campaigns, to mitigate the hardship faced by children who are victims of aggression, especially in conflict zones. In addition, she said the Child Rights Act, yet to be domesticated in some states, and other international and regional treaties would be enforced in order to protect the Nigerian child.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in its blueprint intended to be achieved in 2030, provides a universal plan to secure a better future for children. The 16th goal is dedicated to peace, justice and strong institutions. Target two aims to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.”

It is goal which all should strive to attain.