Report: Violence Against Children Runs Rampant In Nigeria's Northeast
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Since April, a viral social media campaign, called Bring Back Our Girls, has highlighted the mass abduction of more than 250 schoolgirls in Nigeria. They were taken by the militant group known as Boko Haram. Months later, most of those girls are still missing. And activists who track violence against children say that part of Nigeria, the northeast, is as dangerous as ever for young people. That's according to a report out today as we hear from NPR's Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: One of the leaders of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign says she's hoping her country will pay attention to the latest report by Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. Saudatu Mahdi offered some grim statistics, saying that while 57 girls managed to escape that Boko Haram attack on their school in April, 219 girls remain in captivity.
SAUDATU MAHDI: And it is 103 days since the government of Nigeria said it knows where these girls are. And as I speak, none of them has been brought back.
KELEMEN: Mahdi, who also runs a group that promotes women's rights in Nigeria, says it's hard to convince parents to let their girls go to school as long as insurgents are able to rampage through the northeast. Janine Morna, one of the authors of the Watchlist report, says the conflict in northern Nigeria has displaced 650,000 people and both Boko Haram and the so-called self-defense forces that are fighting the insurgents have been recruiting children. Boko Haram, she says, even has girls fighting.
JANINE MORNA: In recent months, there's been a disturbing uptick in the participation of girls in attacks by Boko Haram. A young woman formerly abducted by the group told Watchlist of how she was made to raid hospitals during attacks, carry ammunition and in one case even slaughter somebody who had been brought back to the camp.
KELEMEN: Releasing the report at a news conference at the United Nations, Morna also laid out some concerns about how the Nigerian government is handling the crisis.
MORNA: Unfortunately, the government's current policy of addressing children encountered during conflict is to detain them, oftentimes incommunicado in unofficial military detention facilities that have reportedly mistreated detainees.
KELEMEN: Her organization, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, is calling on the Nigerian government to release detained children and do more to stop self-defense militias from recruiting underage fighters. But much of the report documents the violations by Boko Haram, which has been targeting schools, teachers and students and terrorizing parts of Nigeria. Watchlist says the humanitarian response to this crisis has been slow and fragmented despite the viral social media campaigns to draw attention to the missing girls.
The U.S. government sent an interagency team earlier this year to help Nigeria find the girls. There are only about 10 U.S. officials now working on this out of the U.S. Embassy in Abuja. The Defense Department has another 80 people who man and support reconnaissance flights from a nearby base in Chad. The Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Linda Thomas Greenfield, says Boko Haram's attacks have grown more acute. And she says the U.S. is working on a border-security program with Nigeria and its neighbors. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.