When over 270 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted in April 2014 by Boko Haram, the world was shocked. A movement calling to #BringBackOurGirls swept social media.

Since then, an estimated 2,000 other children have been abducted across the region and forced to fight, marry, work, or even become ‘suicide’ bombers. Millions have witnessed severe violence, fled their homes and had their families torn apart. Violence in the Lake Chad region, covering Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, is becoming one of Africa’s greatest humanitarian emergencies.

But around the world, this crisis is going widely unnoticed.

The conflict has a particularly heavy toll on the region’s children. Cycles of violence and exploitation have impacted their well-being, safety and long-term development as well as limiting access to basic health, education, nutrition and social services.

If the global community doesn’t act now, this rapidly increasing conflict could become one of the most under-reported and under-funded humanitarian efforts of our time. Here are six reasons children impacted by this conflict need our help.

1. Young lives uprooted

Children walk home together after attending a UNICEF supported school at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. © UNICEF/UN015793/Prinsloo
In recent years, Boko Haram violence has triggered the massive displacement of 2.7 million people across the Lake Chad region - most of of them children. In just one year, the number of children uprooted by the crisis has increased by over 60 per cent, from 800,000 to 1.3 million children.
13 year-old Fatima Abubakar fled Nigeria and now lives in the Dar Es Salam refugee camp in Chad. © UNICEF/UN015824/Esiebo
Fatima’s family was forced to flee Nigeria after violence broke out in her small village in Nigeria, killing five family members.

"The table was all set and we were just about to have our breakfast together when the gunshots started outside. We immediately left in panic. I escaped with my mother.”

“I sometimes think about our table, where the breakfast was served, and how the house would be now."

2. Denied the chance to learn

The combined impact of violence against civilians and mass displacement has pulled more than a million children in the region out of school. Over 2,000 schools remain closed due to the conflict - some of them for more than a year - and hundreds have been attacked, looted, set on fire or used as shelter by displaced people.
11 year-old Talatu at a UNICEF sponsored school in the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon. © UNICEF/UN015797/Prinsloo
When 11 year-old Talatu’s aunt and uncle were killed by Boko Haram, she became one of a million children forced out of school by violence in the Lake Chad region. Talatu fled with her mother to Cameroon, where she is learning again at a UNICEF supported school in the Minawao refugee camp.

In 2015, over 150,000 children participated in UNICEF’s schools or learning programmes. With enough funding, UNICEF can deliver school materials and access to education for 240,000 children in 2016. You can deliver 1,000 pencils to children around the world for just $41 today.

3. Food and water shortages

The Boko Haram conflict is exacerbating an already critical food and nutrition crisis that has been brewing for over a decade.

Issues like insecurity, displacement and bad weather have left an estimated 195,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in Boko Haram-affected areas across Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
17 month-old Ngarvounsia Damna is recovering from weight loss at the Maroua hospital in Northern Cameroon. © UNICEF/UN015776/Prinsloo
UNICEF has trained health workers and community volunteers, many of whom are among the displaced, to provide an integrated package of services to manage and prevent acute malnutrition. UNICEF also helps expand nutrition programmes in the conflict affected areas. With increased funds, UNICEF could provide therapeutic feeding to 175,000 severely malnourished children in 2016. For just $68, you can provide 126 sachets of life-saving 'peanut butter' to give infants in need around the world a powerful boost of vital vitamins and minerals.

4. Sexual violence and forced marriage

During the conflict, women and girls have been trafficked, raped, abducted and forcibly married by Boko Haram. Even after being released from captivity, girls and women face distrust and persecution by their communities for perceived connections to the insurgent group. Their children, born as a result of sexual violence, risk being rejected and even killed for fear that they could turn against their families and communities when they grow up.
After being kidnapped by Boko Haram, this 15 year-old has been reunited with her family at a refugee camp in Cameroon. © UNICEF/UN015783/Prinsloo
At 15, Fati (name changed to protect identity) has witnessed more violence than most people ever will. She spent four months in a forced marriage after being abducted by Boko Haram. Thankfully, she was rescued and reunited with her family in a refugee camp in Cameroon.
UNICEF is working with communities and families in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger to fight stigma against survivors of sexual violence and to build a protective environment for former abductees.

5. Forced recruitment into violent forces

In 2015, the estimated number of bomb attacks in North-East Nigeria and neighbouring countries increased sharply, as did the proportion of attacks involving children.

The use of children – especially girls – as so-called suicide bombers has now become one of the defining, and most alarming, features of the conflict. In just one year, the number of children involved in so-called ‘suicide’ attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger has risen tenfold. Three quarters of all child ‘suicide’ bombers are girls.

Children who carry out these attacks are victims, not perpetrators. Bombs are strapped to their bodies - often without them knowing - and detonated remotely in public places.

In 2015, UNICEF provided over 145,000 children affected by the conflict with counselling and psychosocial support to help them cope with emotional distress.

6. Maiming and death

Trapped in violence, children across North East Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon are missing out on their childhood every day. They are at risk of being caught in a cycle of violence – separated from their families, exposed to exploitation, abuse and recruitment by armed groups and held in detention. Many children have been killed, maimed and subjected to unimaginable atrocities.
11 year-old Salta was maimed by a suicide bomb in Chad. She lost her arm in the attack. © UNICEF/UN015887/Bahaji

The impact of violence will stay with Salta forever. This 11-year-old girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a suicide attack ripped through a market in Chad last year. Salta lost her arm and her life will never be the same again.

Tragically, too many children don’t survive such attacks.

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF and its partners in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger have increased their operations on the ground to assist thousands of families in the region with access to safe water, education, counselling and psychosocial support, as well as vaccinations and treatment for malnutrition. With enough funding in 2016, UNICEF aims to:
  • Provide psychosocial support to 225,000 children who have been subjected or exposed to violence and abuse
  • Immunise 133,000 children against diseases such as polio, meningitis and measles
  • Provide school materials and access to temporary learning spaces for over 240,000 children
  • Supply nearly 962,000 children with safe water sources, latrines as well as hygiene promotion
  • Give therapeutic food to over 114,000 severely acutely malnourished children

Help children where they need you most

One in nine children alive today is growing up in a conflict zone. Millions are being robbed of their education, exposed to horrific violence and pushed beyond the boundaries of human suffering. They are twice as likely to die from preventable diseases before their fifth birthdays.

But UNICEF is working every day to protect children in conflict zones and wherever the need is greatest in 190 countries. Our teams urgently need support to:

  • Deliver lifesaving health and nutrition supplies
  • Keep children safe and learning in temporary classrooms
  • Help victims of violence reconnect with their families and recover with psychosocial support
  • Tackle child marriage, trafficking and exploitation.
You can help continue this vital work, wherever children need us most. By signing up with a monthly gift, you can join our Global Parents in making a powerful commitment: that wherever a child is born and whatever comes their way, we'll give them a life, a chance, a choice.