Children are bearing the brunt of much of the violence in northeastern Nigeria – including killings, rapes, abductions and attacks on schools. A new report blamed Boko Haram militants, Nigerian security forces and self-defense militias.
The group - Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict --has released the report called Who Will Care for Us? – Grave Violations in Northeastern Nigeria. It’s based on a six-week research mission earlier this year.
Watchlist research officer Janine Morna, author of the report, said, “Since 2009, the level of violence and the scale of violations against children in northeastern Nigeria have worsened. The conflict has displaced about 650,000 people – primarily women and children – and affected millions of others. Of particular concern to Watchlist is the recruitment and use of children by Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram, as well as armed self-defense militia who operate in the northeast.”
Morna said the children carry out surveillance and sometimes take part in attacks.
“Children are increasingly in the line of fire. Interviewees told Watchlist that they had seen children as young as 14-years-old working alongside Boko Haram to carry ammunition, set houses alight. They’d also seen children as young as 13-years-old among civilian self-defense militia.”
Boko Haram, she said, abducts boys and girls. It forces boys to join their ranks or face death.
“Some times the group pressures families to have their children join Boko Haram. And in one case documented by Watchlist a 13-yearold who refused to join had two of his family members killed. In other cases, the group incentivizes disaffected, unemployed youth in Borno State and other areas of the northeast to join for money,” she said.
The report said that girls are not immune from taking part in the bloodshed.
“In recent months, there’s been a disturbing uptick in the participation of girls in attacks by Boko Haram. A young woman formerly abducted by the group told Watchlist of how she was made to raid hospitals during attacks, carry ammunition and in one case even slaughter somebody, who had been brought back to the camp. In July this year, reports emerged of a 10-year-old girl, who had been detained by authorities and was suspected to be acting under the direction of Boko Haram,” said Morna.
Christian children, the report said, are often forced to convert to Islam by Boko Haram.
The Watchlist report also said the rise in child recruitment by self-defense militias is not as widely reported. The militias have increased due to security gaps left unfilled by the military. The report said the “most notorious” of these is the Civilian Joint Task Force that was formed in Borno State. It is now believed to be made-up of a number of different groups.
Morna said, “Initially, new recruits joined to avenge the deaths of family members, who had been killed at the hands of Boko Haram. However, as the group has come under increasing fire from Boko Haram, villages have described a process of recruitment where representatives from the civilian self-defense militia negotiate with chiefs of different villages for new members. This includes any able bodied member and children as young as 13-years-old. One youth told Watchlist if you refuse to join you are killed.”
Morna added that the militias have been praised by Nigeria’s president and received support from the military and the Borno State government. She said current government policy is to detain children – sometimes incommunicado -- who are suspected of being soldiers.
Due to the threat to children, many schools in the northeast have been closed, affecting hundreds of thousands of children. Parents have also taken to hiding their children.
The Watchlist report called on the Nigerian government to take action to end the recruitment of child soldiers and to care for those who have been. It also recommends collecting evidence of violations and abuses.
Saudatu Mahdi, of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign, says of the 276 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok earlier this year only 57 have escaped. Of the rest none has been rescued.