One year ago, 276 girls were abducted from their school in Chikbo by Boko Haram, a terrorist group in Northern Nigeria. UNICEF Ireland work experience student, Siofra Richardson, reflects on the first anniversary of #BringBackOurGirls and the impact it’s had on children.
UNICEF’s recent report, Missing Childhoods, revealed that more than 800,000 children have had to flee their homes in Nigeria during this ongoing violence and conflict, many of them seperated from their families and now living across the borders in Chad. In fact, in Dar es Salaam’s refugee camp in Chad, there are 128 children who arrived at the camp unaccompanied by their families, many of whom don’t even know where their families are.
Life in refugee camps such as Dar es Salaam is simple at best. UNICEF along with their partners, provide access to food, water, and basic healthcare, along with temporary learning centres, so that children may continue with their education to give them the best chance for their future. Tools such as ‘School in a Box’ are brought to these camps by UNICEF, providing the equipment to accommodate a teacher and up to 50 schoolchildren in these temporary learning centres. UNICEF also provides vaccinations to the people of these camps to ensure diseases do not spread. Therapeutic food sachets are issued to the malnourished, and in situations where water cannot be pumped from the ground, UNICEF delivers water to the camps on a regular basis.
And while the best possible effort is being made so these children can be healthy, happy and get an education, they’re still not receiving their full rights. Yet these children living in refugee camps are ‘the lucky ones’. The fighting continues in Nigeria, and more children are leaving every day to cross the borders and find safety in refugee camps.
Living in Nigeria is, for these children, living in terror. Boko Haram frequently attack villages and towns, abducting women and children and shooting men. They often target schools, killing teachers and students, and destroying school buildings. By the end of 2014, over 300 school buildings were damaged or destroyed, 196 teachers and 314 schoolchildren killed.
These attacks see women – mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters, separated from young children, and brought to camps where they are forced to do manual labour, trafficked, and sexually abused. The younger children are used as cooks, porters, lookouts and sometimes even trained as combatants.
Older boys are trained as soldiers and recruited into Boko Haram, while the men are killed, often in front of their wives and children.
Last year’s death toll was 6,347 people, killed in this conflict according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. This year’s stands at more than 2,800 so far, leaving thousands of children without parents and very often completely alone. The children who do make it to the refugee camps across the borders often show symptoms of trauma and can’t sleep, can’t eat and can’t talk about their journey at all. UNICEF provided 60,000 children affected by the conflict with counselling and psychosocial support in the last six months, and there are so many more who need this treatment.
It’s estimated that Nigeria will have the world’s nineteenth largest economy by 2030, the current annual GDP being around $500 billion, according to Quartz. If so, Nigeria will be the first African country to hit $1 trillion. The Nigerian economy has been expanding by about 7% annually for the last decade. With one in every five African people being Nigerian, Nigeria stands with a population of 173.6 million people. Nigeria has the potential to develop into a fully stable economy and theoretically could eradicate poverty within their next generation.
But how can this potential be fulfilled if the future generation is currently fleeing the country, suffering from trauma after being separated from their friends and families, watching people be killed and narrowly escape being sold into slavery, trafficked into the sex trade, recruited into the ranks of Boko Haram as a child soldier or being killed themselves?
How can this potential be fulfilled when Boko Haram have made schools targets, killing teachers and students? Without educating the youth of Nigeria, Nigeria has no future. And destroying schools in Nigeria, meaning children have no place to learn, is destroying the future. These children will have grown up in the most horrific situations, and will have been subject to beating, watching people be trafficked and murdered. Children who are growing, learning, will not know right from wrong. They will only know violence. Their childhood will have been lost, lost amidst the shooting and the riots.
Every one of these children deserves a childhood, and it’s our job to make sure they get it. It’s easy to say, but it feels like it’s something incredibly difficult to do. Never doubt how much of a difference you can make – you might only save one child that day but one child will live a better life because of you. We must remember as a people to always recognise these children’s right to a childhood, because where would we be without ours?