1.4 million children have been displaced by the conflict between government forces and armed groups which started to escalate since 2013 in the Lake Chad Basin, an area that comprises parts of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
These children have been forced to leave their towns and villages, often abandoning everything, due to the fear of abuse, sexual violence, forced recruitment or death, points out the UNICEF report “Children on the move, children left behind”.
“I wanted to take my school books, but I couldn’t even do that”, says Khadija, 15, who was forced to move five times over the past six years; “all we left with were the clothes on our backs; we walked for days, barefoot”.
The report warns that children fleeing in the region are at risk of violence, exploitation, detention, trafficking and separation from their families: “in northeast Nigeria alone, an estimated 20,000 children have been separated from their families”.
Not only children are exposed to violence and abuse, but also thousands of them have been forcibly recruited by armed groups and 86 children have been used in ‘suicide’ attacks since 2014.
The conflict has exacerbated a situation already affected by poverty and climate change, thus leading to a major humanitarian crisis: this year, “more than 475,000 children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in conflict-affected areas”.
To address this neglected crisis, UNICEF urges the international community to scale up humanitarian assistance: “children needs must be put first, and their rights must be respected, protected and fulfilled. Children associated with armed groups should be released and reintegrated into their communities without delay”.
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