In May 2014, the UN Secretary-General first listed Boko Haram in his annual report on children and armed conflict for killing and maiming children and attacks against schools and hospitals, committed in 2013. In subsequent annual reports, Boko Haram’s listing was expanded to include recruitment and use of children and abduction, while the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a local self-defense militia, was additionally added for recruitment and use.
In April 2017, the Secretary-General published his first report on the situation of children and armed conflict in Nigeria, which was formally presented to the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict (Working Group) on August 3. Covering the period of January 2013 to December 2016, the report highlights grave violations against children committed by Boko Haram, Nigerian security forces, and the CJTF in three northeastern states. It also highlights grave violations committed by Boko Haram in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. On the basis of the report, the Working Group began to negotiate its conclusions in mid-September. Ahead of the deliberations, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict (Watchlist) issued its own recommendations to the Working Group based on the input of its network members, partners, and research carried out on Nigeria in 2014 and 2015.
Since 2015, Boko Haram has lost territory and more than 25,000 captives, including women and children, were able to escape. That said, serious concerns remain regarding the treatment of children encountered during military operations, ongoing recruitment of children by the CJTF, and an increase in the use of children as “human bombs” by Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
The Secretary-General’s report documents the detention of more than 1,100 children for their or their parents’ alleged association with Boko Haram. The average time spent in detention ranged between three and four months, however, the UN documented at least 68 cases of boys between ages 12 and 17 that had been detained for over one year. Children as young as five have additionally been held in the Giwa military barracks and the Secretary-General expressed concern over the use of children by the Nigerian security forces and CJTF to identify other Boko Haram members.
In light of this, Watchlist calls on the Working Group to urge the Government of Nigeria to take all feasible measures to ensure the release of children from Boko Haram and the CJTF, but also to release all children detained on security-related charges to child protection actors, and promote their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration. Children should be treated primarily as victims, and the Government should immediately adopt a standalone handover protocol for children encountered during military operations.
Furthermore, UNICEF, International Alert, and others have expressed serious concern regarding the stigmatization and discrimination of women and children returning from Boko Haram captivity. Communities and families have rejected returnees, further complicating their reintegration. In addition to ensuring that reintegration programming promotes physical and psychological recovery, the Government should ensure the process includes interventions to tackle stigma and promote community acceptance, with specific attention paid to the different needs of boys and girls.
Watchlist will work with the Permanent Mission of Sweden, Chair of the Working Group, and other Council Members to ensure the conclusions are as strong as possible. For more information on Watchlist’s work on Nigeria, please visit: https://watchlist.org/countries/nigeria/