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Bring Back Our Girls, Bring Back Their Childhoods

ICE Graveyard 15/04/2016 Udoka Okafor
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There is a campaign called the 'No Lost Generation', and this is a campaign that was started to resist the narrative of calling the children of Syria growing up in conflict, the lost generation. And in fact, they are not lost.
Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier who wrote the inspiring memoir, "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" has this quote that I am very fond of. It states, "I believe children have the resilience to outlive their suffering, if given the chance." I could not agree more.
Children are resilient and they are brave, we just have to give them the chance to bounce back and we can never lose hope in them. In the same way that we are resisting the narrative of referring to the Syrian children growing up in conflict as the lost generation, we must also resist this narrative when it comes to the children growing up in conflict in Nigeria. Based on the study, Beyond Chibok, released by UNICEF, over 1.3 million Nigerian children have been displaced by the Boko Haram conflict. But, we must not give up hope, we must keep investing in them because they are just as resilient.
On April 14 2014, 276 girls were kidnapped from their school in the town of Chibok in Borno State. Although some of the girls managed to escape, 219 of these girls remain in captivity to this day. The kidnapping has come to be known, infamously, as the 'Chibok Schoolgirls Kidnapping.' This marks two years of these girls being in captivity, and that is a very long time. Their kidnapping received worldwide attention and it sparked a global outrage amongst world leaders, activists, and the general public. But, hidden in the shadows of this attack, are thousands of other children that have also been kidnapped by Boko Haram, kidnappings that have not received similar public attention and public outrage. The report that was released by UNICEF highlights the stories of the children caught up in this conflict.
According to the report, "Since the Chibok girls' abduction two years ago, thousands of other children have disappeared in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Scores have been separated from their families and subjected to exploitation, abuse and recruitment by armed groups. Some have even been used to carry out suicide bombings. Yet, their stories are barely told." The number of displaced children has increased by over 60% in just one year. As the report notes, "Boys are forced to attack their own families to demonstrate their loyalty to Boko Haram, while girls are exposed to severe abuse including sexual violence and forced marriage to fighters. Some are also used to carry or detonate bombs." The number of children involved in suicide bombings is 11 times higher in just one year, from four children being used in 2014 to 44 children being used in 2015 in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. About one out of five suicide bombers that Boko Haram uses is a child, and 75% of the children used as suicide bombers are girls.
Based on a report conducted by CNN, many of the girls volunteer to be suicide bombers not because they have somehow been indoctrinated into the ideology but because they see this as a chance to escape. As the report eloquently notes, many other girls are still being held captive, "so desperate to flee the forest, they will volunteer to die, so perhaps they can live." These girls are subjected to sexual violence and are forced to marry their captors and many of them end up bearing children for their captors. According to a report, it is possible that some of them develop ties to their captors, a form of Stockholm Syndrome because of the possible indoctrination that these girls are believed to endure.
However, we should never for one second doubt that all of these children caught up in the conflict are victims. And yet, when many of these girls are rescued and sent to camps, they are shunned by their community, they are labelled social outcasts, and their babies are referred to as 'bad blood' because they are children of Boko Haram fighters. As summarized in a research conducted by UNICEF titled 'Bad Blood', the girls freed from captivity "face marginalisation, discrimination and rejection by family and community members due to social and cultural norms related to sexual violence. There is also the growing fear that some of these girls and women were radicalised in captivity. The children who have been born of sexual violence are at an even greater risk of rejection, abandonment and violence."
Within this conflict, so many schools have been closed down-about 1800 of them so far-and more than 670000 children are still being deprived of an education, which is truly a tragedy, indeed. There are also nutritional, health care, psychological and emotional needs that need to be fulfilled. UNICEF and their partners are doing their best but they are severely underfunded. According to the report, "UNICEF needs US$ 97 million to provide lifesaving assistance to families affected by Boko Haram violence across Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Only US$ 11 million have been received so far." I am calling on world leaders, activists, and Foundations to please invest in this cause, to please invest in these children and to give them the opportunity to be resilient. These children are not lost, there is still hope.
The Nigerian government needs to deal with the Boko Haram crisis efficiently so that we can bring it to an end as efficiently as possible. But, in all of this, we must never forget that Boko Haram is an ideology whose political, social, economic, and historical foundations need to be addressed to truly bring the conflict to a close. The worst part of the Boko Haram conflict in Nigeria has been its effect on children whose stories have mostly stayed hidden in the shadows. We must bring it to the light and invest in their recovery and education. Let us unite to 'Bring Back Our Girls' and 'Bring Back Their Childhoods'.

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