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Children’s Protection in Nigeria “Urgent” Says U.N. Official

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2015 (IPS) - The protection of children in Nigeria’s northeast relies on urgent action, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict concluded during a weeklong assessment in the war-torn country.

Leila Zerrougui’s visit was mandated by the Security Council, following the Secretary-General’s recognition of Boko Haram as a party to conflict that kills and maims children, and attacks schools and hospitals.

The insurgency and the military’s response, have resulted in the displacement of close to 1 million people so far. Zerrougui met with children and women from the conflict zones who have fled their homes.

“I witnessed people’s shock and disbelief at the devastation suffered by their communities. I saw trauma in children’s eyes. The scale of the suffering is beyond what I anticipated to find,” said Zerrougui. “The people I met demand and deserve urgent protection,” she added.

Her visit centred on mobilizing efforts to assess grave violations committed against children, in a conflict that has been ranked one of the world’s deadliest for children in 2014, by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, which reports that “relentless violence” is the status quo.

Over 300 schools have been severely damaged or destroyed, while hundreds of children have been killed, injured, or abducted in attacks on homes, schools, and dormitories. Violence against girls has included forced marriage and rape.

Fatal blows to civilians are unabated in 2015, including a suicide bombing carried out by a young girl in the northeastern state of Borno, where Boko Haram was created in 2002.

“Children are allegedly used for intelligence purposes, tracking movements of the security forces, transporting guns and taking part in attacks, including the burning of schools and churches,” explains a report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council.

“Hundreds of children were killed or maimed by Boko Haram in bomb and gun attacks against anyone who supported democracy or so-called Western values.”

It also indicates that humanitarian access to monitor these kinds of incidents involving minors has become more difficult, especially after the closure of Maiduguri airport in a post-attack by the Islamist militant group in December 2013.

Zerrougui’s visit last week stressed the twin goals of protecting children during armed conflict and promoting accountability.

She met with federal and state authorities, the U.N. (including UNICEF), diplomatic cadres, NGOs and partners such as representatives of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, an appeal for the couple of hundred abducted school girls in Chibok in April 2014.

In open dialogue with Zerrougui, Nigerian authorities expressed their commitment to collaborate with the U.N., to investigate allegations of violations committed against children, and to follow up with necessary measures to hold perpetrators accountable.

“I commend the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for his willingness to respond to reports of recruitment and use of children by government-affiliated self-defense groups in the three north-eastern states. He has agreed to issue an advisory recalling the prohibition of such a practice,” said Zerrougui.

Meanwhile, Avaaz launched its campaign last week calling on the UN Security Council to convene an emergency meeting to issue a presidential statement on Boko Haram’s ongoing reign of terror, and to move toward comprehensive action. The campaign has been supported by more than 725,000 citizens around the world (and rising), and shared by 50,000 people on Facebook.

Alice Jay, Campaign Director for Avaaz said: “Boko Haram has butchered its way into the global spotlight and finally the Security Council is reacting”.

Today’s presidential statement is a critical start and all eyes are now on Nigeria, its neighbours and the international community to put words into comprehensive action to stop ten year olds being strapped to bombs or kidnapped in the night, she added.

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