The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, has expressed alarm at the spate of attacks against children and their abductions, including students, in Nigeria and parts of West and Central Africa.
Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Stephane Dujarric stated this while briefing correspondents at the UN headquarters in New York, on Wednesday.
Dujarric said Fore cited the latest report by the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, which said that one in three child victims of grave violations had been in West and Central Africa.
“She said that it is not enough to condemn these crimes and stressed that non-State armed groups and all parties to conflict, who are committing violations of children’s rights, have a moral and legal obligation to immediately cease attacks against children,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, Fore said in a statement on Wednesday that the incidents appeared to be increasing in frequency, raising fears for the safety and wellbeing of children in the region.
Fore was reacting to the kidnapping of some 140 students from a boarding school in Kaduna State, Nigeria, on Monday.
“We are deeply concerned that as in years past, non-State armed groups and parties to conflict in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger and Nigeria will ramp up these violent activities over the coming weeks, ahead of the rainy season when their movements could be restricted by flooding.
“Every effort must be made to reverse the spiraling protection crisis for children as the region is on the brink of a catastrophe,” she said.
Fore reported that in Burkina Faso, attacks against civilians, as well as other violations of international humanitarian law had “spiked significantly” in recent weeks.
At least 130 people were killed on Monday in an assault on a village in Yagha Province which, she said, was the single deadliest attack in the country since violence broke out in 2015.
Additionally, 178 civilians there, including children, had been killed so far this month, while violence had displaced upwards of 1.2 million people, a ten-fold increase over three years.
The UNICEF chief listed more examples of attacks, abductions and other violations affecting children that had occurred in other countries in the region in recent months.
Fore stressed that it was not enough to just condemn these crimes, but to take concerted action so that children can live in safety.
“This starts with non-State armed groups and all parties to conflict who are committing violations of children’s rights.
“They have a moral and legal obligation to immediately cease attacks against civilians, and to respect and protect civilians and civilian objects during any military operations.
“They should also not impede but facilitate the efforts of UNICEF and other humanitarian actors on the ground working to reach vulnerable children,” she said.
The international community also has an important role to play, she added, including by increasing donor contributions to humanitarian organisations so that they can expand their work to reduce children’s vulnerabilities and keep them safe.
These operations include creating safe, temporary learning environments in areas where schools had closed due to insecurity, providing psychosocial support to children affected by violence, and supporting education on mine risk awareness.