Year 2017 witnessed rights abuse and violent crimes against children. In many parts of the world, children were frontline targets recruited to fight and used as suicide bombers by extremist groups.
In many instances, children were used as human shields by terrorist groups, which often resulted in maiming and killing. In some instances, the children were raped and forced into early marriages.
Nigeria was not an exception. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on Wednesday, December 27, 2017, declared that 135 children were forced to act as suicide bombers by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon in 2017.
“In North-East Nigeria and Cameroon, Boko Haram has forced at least 135 children to act as suicide bombers, almost five times the number in 2016,” UNICEF’s Communication Specialist, Eva Hind, said in Abuja.
Also, UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, Manuel Fontaine, lamented that parties involved in conflicts around the world had continuously disregarded international laws, which were set up to specifically protect the most vulnerable in societies.
According to Fontaine, “Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds. As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.
“In conflicts around the world, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become standard tactics in conflicts from Iraq, Syria and Yemen to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar.”
The reality is that children have become vulnerable as they are no longer safe to play in public places. They have become targets of attacks and abuses as a result of increased violence.
According to UNICEF, in 2017, several abuses of children occurred across the world. In Afghanistan, almost 700 children were killed between January and September 2017. In the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, violence has driven 850,000 children from their homes. An estimated 350,000 children have suffered from severe acute malnutrition.
In South Sudan, over 19,000 children have been recruited into armed forces and armed groups. Consequently, over 2,300 children have been killed or injured since the conflict first erupted in December 2013.
No fewer than 1,740 cases of child recruitment were reported in the first 10 months of 2017 in Somalia.
The nearly three years of fighting in Yemen left at least 5,000 children dead or injured while over 11 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.
UNICEF stated that out of 1.8 million children suffering from malnutrition, 385,000 are severely malnourished and at risk of death if not urgently treated.
In Iraq and Syria, children were used as human shields, trapped under siege, targeted by snipers and lived through intense bombardment and violence.
In Myanmar, Rohingya children suffered and witnessed shocking and widespread violence as they were attacked and driven from their homes in Rakhine state; while children in remote border areas of Kachin, Shan and Kayin states continue to suffer the consequences of on-going tensions between the Myanmar Armed Forces and various ethnic armed groups.
In the Central African Republic, the renewed fighting has led to many children being killed, raped, abducted and some recruited by armed groups.
The entire scenario is pathetic. The vulnerable of the society are left without protection.
That 135 Nigerian children were used as suicide bombers in 2017 is worrisome. In most cases, the children were abducted by the terrorists and later used as human bombs. This is against international laws, that the vulnerable of the society should be protected.
The fact that Nigerian children have been repeatedly used as ‘human bombs’ in the last few years is a major concern. No sane government can keep quiet in the face of an appalling increase in the cruel use of children as ‘human bombs’ in North-East.
While the Federal Government intensify efforts to degrade and eliminate the Boko Haram terrorist group in the North-East, efforts should be intensified to secure the children in insurgency affected areas and particularly those in the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp.
Parents must also take more than passing interest in their children. Parents, especially those in the North-East, must keep watch over their children so that they do not become handy tools for insurgents.
We appeal to governments at all levels to make it mandatory that children in IDPs camps are sent to school to engage them fully and reduce considerably their chances of falling prey to Boko Haram recruiters. Such schools can be brought close to the children in the camps to make access easy.
We call on the international community and political leaders to help millions of children who have been forced to pay direct and indirect price for violent conflicts. The children suffering from malnutrition, disease and trauma need help. Efforts should be made to address their basic needs, including access to food, water, sanitation and health.
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