While the world focuses on mass kidnappings of women and girls in northern Nigeria, boys have suffered the brunt of the crisis, as many are also abducted and conscripted. Over the past three years, militant groups have kidnapped more than 10,000 boys and trained them in boot camps, abandoned villages and forest hide-outs, according to government officials in Nigeria and the Human Rights Watch. Boys, and at times girls, as young as five years old are being indoctrinated into violence and used as fighters, suicide bombers and spies. Since 2014, 86 children have been used as a suicide bombers, including 38 last year. One of the children who fled from the Nigerian state of Borno and is currently supported by World Vision in Niger tells a related story.
Mohamed Gonimy*(12), and his family, now live peacefully at one of the displaced people’s camp where they have been for the past two years. He was kidnapped by Boko Haram. This is his story. "Before the crisis I was living in Damasak (Nigeria) with my family. I was enrolled in Koranic school, and I used to attend classes from 12:00 to 16:00 o’clock. My father looked after a vegetable garden and we all helped him with it. Every morning I used to sell fried yam at the local market and help my mother to sell condiments in town", he shyly explains.
"The day Boko Haram attacked our town for the first time, I was at the market selling yam. Disorientated and afraid, I run towards Komadugu River, but midway decided to go back home. On arrival home, I found the house empty, so my friends and I decided to go back to the river to cross. Unfortunately, this time we were unlucky, because we were kidnapped and taken to a big compound in town. ‘We will educate you, teach you the Holy Qur'an and you will all become fighters,' the man who kidnapped us said. At the compound the person responsible to look after us had three soldiers with him. He used to make us memorize and recite the sacred verses of the Qur'an every day, from morning to noon. He told us that, the best boy among us will be conscripted and given a “Bundu” (a local name for a fire arm). Sometimes he used to hit us with a whip, because we used to take too long to do some tasks, like going to bed on time, but the good boys were allowed to wander outside the compound. I also heard lots of people being killed at the compound, especially the ones that tried to escape. I stayed at that place for over two months," recalls Mohamed.
According to Mohamed, while he was in captivity, children were allow to visit, their families. The reality is that the compound where, he and his friends were kept , was in the centre of Damasak and at some stage even, parents were allow to visit their children there.
Mohamed explains, how he managed to escape from captivity with the help of his grandfather. "My grandfather stayed at Damasak, because the elderly were spared. One day he picked up girls' clothes and during one of my visits home, he asked me to wear them, with a head scarf and advised me to tell the soldiers at the checkpoint that my name is Yana. That's how we went through Komadugu and later arrived at Gagamari (15 kilometers from Diffa)".
Mohamed and his grandfather, were very happy to find the rest of the family members at Gagamari settlement, before been relocated to refugee camp.
"Soon after our arrival at a new camp, people from World Vision came to ask questions of children and then they set up this child friendly space (CFS), where children meet every day to play, sing, dance and learn new things. My parents are more reassured because of this space, because I stopped going to the bush or wander around the camp. I stopped, having nightmares, and I no longer feel afraid, that I will be kidnapped. I feel happy here, because this place allows me to forget the time I spent at the compound. Here I received notebooks and other school materials. Here I attend Koranic school and at the end of the classes play with my friends in CFS playground area.”
Mohamed hopes to return home someday and become a well-known food trader when he grows up.
Children like Mohamed will continue to pay the highest price for this crisis unless their humanitarian and protection needs are urgently met and there’s a swift and sustainable resolution to the conflict. As donors and humanitarian actors meet in Oslo, Norway, World Vision calls on all parties to the conflict to take immediate measures to protect children and civilians from both direct involvement and the indirect effects of armed conflict.
Violence against children is a silent emergency killing hordes of children and truncating their future. World Vision calls on donors to:
- Ensure the 4 countries involved in the LCB are prioritizing and resourcing plans to implement SDG 16.2 to end violence against children and SDG 8.7 to end the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use by armed groups.
- Ensure child protection is recognised as lifesaving for the duration of the crisis.
- Provide funding for humanitarian organisations to scale up access to protective emergency learning spaces and longer-term education for children and youth affected by the conflict.
- Prioritize efforts to strengthen the community-based protective environment for children, including government and community protection systems and build community and children’s capacity to identify and act upon early warning signs of abduction or other child protection concerns.
- Support recovery and reintegration programmes for children formerly associated with armed groups.
- Prioritize programmes to strengthen boys’ and girls’ coping mechanisms and resilience and empower them to promote peace.
Protect children like Mohamed. Stand for safety today.
*Please note that Mohamed real name, has been changed in the story. This was done for his own safety