Addressing the Issue of Child Soldiers in Nigeria 

Child Soldiers in NigeriaSeveral people in Nigeria are facing displacement and vulnerability due to the issue of child soldiers. Armed groups recruit children under 18, classifying them as “child soldiers.” Despite international efforts, recruitment continues, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive measures to protect these children. There are a number of factors driving this crisis, but on the bright side, international collaborations and educational initiatives play a significant role in bringing about positive change. These endeavors aim to safeguard Nigeria’s children from the horrors of armed conflicts, offering them a future free from fear and violence.

Globally, armed conflicts unfortunately involve children, with at least 105,000 child soldiers reported between 2005 and 2022. Armed groups compel these children into service through methods such as abduction, threats, poverty or the need for survival, all of which violate international law and child rights. Within these armed forces, these children endure violence, perilous tasks and deprivation, significantly affecting their physical and mental well-being.

In 2021, a United Nations (UN) report highlighted alarming rates of child soldiers in Nigeria and sexual violence against children in West and Central Africa. Within five years, government forces and armed groups recruited more than 21,000 children in the region. Furthermore, abductions affected more than 3,500 children, ranking the nation as the second-highest globally in abductions.

Humanitarian Crisis

Various security issues plague Nigeria, including the persistent Boko Haram insurgency in the North, prolonged unrest in the Niger Delta, escalating clashes between herders and farmers in the central and southern regions and the separatist movement in the South East known as Biafra agitation.

Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group, has violently affected the Lake Chad Basin region in West Africa for more than 12 years, displacing at least 2 million people and causing a severe humanitarian crisis. The group’s goal has been to create an Islamic caliphate based in Nigeria. Additionally, this conflict has impacted neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger, leading to the displacement of millions of people across these regions. Armed groups abduct, kill and force children into becoming child soldiers and suicide bombers. They also attack villages, depriving residents of essential resources such as safe water and healthcare. The ongoing crisis has led to a sharp rise in child malnutrition rates.

Child Warfare 

Boko Haram is employing new strategies, notably involving children in warfare, to regain influence and global infamy.

In July 2020, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict condemned Boko Haram’s grave violations against children in Nigeria’s northeast. Between January 2017 and December 2019, Boko Haram recruited 3,601 children, including 1,385 child soldiers through abduction, forced combat and sexual slavery.

Boko Haram has recruited child soldiers as young as 5 to 8 years old. Even more concerning is the group’s use of young girls as suicide bombers. Between April 2011 and June 2017, they deployed 434 bombers, with more than 50% being females. Shockingly, 81 of them were children and teenagers. This number exceeds the 44 child bombers used by the Tamil Tigers over a decade.

The Fight for the Future 

Armed groups in Nigeria recruit and use child soldiers due to various contributing factors. Cash incentives are attractive to countries with a large population living below the poverty line, which makes recruitment easier. Moreover, the Almajiri system in Northern Nigeria exposes out-of-school children to vulnerability, making them susceptible to armed groups. Despite efforts to address the problem, including heightened security measures in Northern Nigeria, the UN considers the situation “unacceptable and immoral.” The issue remains unresolved, even though the UN and the Nigerian government have worked together to combat it.

The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict is urging regional efforts to prevent children from joining armed groups by providing them with better opportunities such as education and meaningful activities. This approach involves establishing child protection agencies, reintegrating rescued children and prioritizing education to reduce vulnerability and the number of out-of-school children, thereby making them less susceptible to recruitment by non-state armed groups.

Urgent global attention and coordinated efforts from the international community, the UN and the Nigerian government appear to be vital in addressing the issue of child soldiers in Nigeria. The involvement of children, as young as 5 years old, vividly highlights the severity of the issue. Despite recent initiatives like enacting the Child Rights Act and endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, the issue of child recruitment persists, underscoring the need for a comprehensive approach.

Both recent and ongoing trends regarding this problem emphasize the need for sustained commitment from all stakeholders to eradicate the use of child soldiers in Nigeria and provide a brighter future for the nation’s young generations.

– Ellen Jones
Photo: Flickr