Christophe Boulierac, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said over 1.4 million children had been forced to flee conflict in Nigeria and the region. A sharp increase in attacks by the armed group commonly known as Boko Haram had uprooted 500,000 children over the past five months, bringing the total number of children on the run in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring countries to over 1.4 million. In northern Nigeria alone, nearly 1.2 million children had been forced to flee their homes. Additionally 265,000 children had been displaced to the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
UNICEF had a full presence in all four countries (Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger) and was providing lifesaving assistance. So far UNICEF had vaccinated 315,000 children against measles, 65,000 children under five years of age had received treatment for severe acute malnutrition and 72,000 displaced children had received counselling and psychosocial support. More than 200,000 people had received access to safe water and 65,000 displaced and refugee children who had no access to education were able to continue their learning thanks to the delivery of school materials.
Humanitarian access was difficult in northeast Nigeria where insecurity was a serious threat, but despite that UNICEF had managed to step up humanitarian assistance to displaced families.
However the real problem was not the security but funds, said Mr. Boulierac. Due to the lack of funds UNICEF’s ability to deliver lifesaving assistance on the ground was seriously compromised. The US$ 50.3 million required to fund operations in the Lake Chad region this year was only 32 per cent funded, and as a result over 124,000 conflict-affected children have yet to be immunized against measles, more than 83,000 still lacked access to safe water and more than 208,000 children were out of school.
UNICEF urged its donors to increase its humanitarian assistance to the refugees, internally displaced people, hosting communities in Nigeria and neighbouring countries hit by the conflict.
Asked about the ongoing situation of the Chibook girls, Mr. Boulierac said he had no news but it was UNICEF’s understanding that the girls had been split up and the situation continued to be very difficult for those girls and children.
Asked if the 1.2 million displaced children were accompanied by their families or alone,Mr. Boulierac said a number of children had been separated from their families, following attacks on their communities.
Responding to questions about the use of children to carry and detonate explosive devices in public places such as markets, Mr. Boulierac said women and children were increasingly being used and exploited by armed groups, in bombing attacks and other ways. Children were used as a tactic of war and it was the worst form of child abuse. It was important to consider children who were used for bomb attacks as victims and not perpetrators, he emphasized, adding that some were not even informed that they were carrying explosives.