(WOMENSENEWS)–In April the seizure of more than 200 female students by Boko Haram fighters turned Chibok, a town in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno, into a byword for the dangers facing schoolchildren in a region where fresh signs of conflict keep coming.
It also pushed the country’s difficulties in contending with the extremist Islamist group into international headlines. More than three months after the mass abductions of the “Chibok girls” most of them are still missing.
Some campaigners continued to raise questions this week about the government’s failed negotiations for the girls’ release.
A Nigerian reporter captured a growing sense of defeat when she complained about the lull of interest in the situation and how little that is still known about the girls. “While some of the schoolgirls escaped from their abductors,” wrote Ojo M. Maduekwein in Nigeria’s This Day on Sept. 2, “it is not exactly known if the remaining are still within the Nigerian border, scattered in the sect’s several cells, or like the leader of the terrorists, Abubakar Shekau boasted, have been married off as sex slaves to men living in Chad and Cameroon.”
A Sept. 4 media survey by child-welfare advocates brings the fate of those girls, along with many other children, back into focus.
“Who Will Care for Us? Grave Violations against Children in Northeastern Nigeria,” by the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, a New York-based global advocacy and rights network, reports that since 2012, the “JAS,” or Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, better known as Boko Haram, and possibly other groups have carried out attacks on schools, including places of higher education, that have resulted in the death, injury or abduction of at least 414 students, teachers or other civilians on the school premises.
Boy, Girls at Risk
For boys, recruitment by militias is a particular threat. For girls it’s abductions. The report says 650,000 people–primarily women and children–have been displaced by the conflict in the Northeast and inter-communal violence.
Gender-based abductions began in early 2013, the survey finds, after the government imprisoned wives of Boko Haram members. Since then, the report’s author Janine Morna writes that the rate and scale of abductions has increased, with Christian women and girls the main target. (Northern Nigeria is predominately Muslim; Southern Nigeria is primarily Christian.)
The Chibok abductions involved the most victims in a single episode, but the report maps out a steady stream of attacks on schools, students and faculty members based on media accounts.
“While the abduction of over 200 girls from Chibok in Borno State has shed some light on these atrocities, much of the impact of the conflict on children is not well understood or addressed,” the survey says. “Following a six-week research mission between March and May 2014, Watchlist found that parties to the conflict have subjected boys and girls to forced recruitment, attacks on their schools, killing and maiming, abductions, rape and sexual violence and arbitrary detention. The humanitarian response has been slow, fragmented and unable to meet the fast-growing needs of those affected by the conflict.”
The survey includes interviews with six girls and young women, between the ages of 15 and 22, who were abducted and escaped from JAS camps. Girls and young women have been seized from schools, markets and during raids on villages and homes.
Among a collection of recommendations, the survey presses for better data collection on missing children and better programming to support children affected by conflict. It also calls for better “operating procedures to manage children encountered in armed groups and to expand and implement strategies to promote school safety and security.”
Corinna Barnard is editor of Women’s eNews. Follow her on Twitter.
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