UNODC steps up effort to protect child victims and witnesses in terrorism-related proceedings in Nigeria

Abuja, 2 February, 2022- In the past years, multiple armed groups, including Boko Haram and its splinter faction ISWAP, have used children as strategic pawns for their terror tactics in Nigeria. Boko Haram has abducted, recruited, and exploited thousands of children since the group began attacks around the Lake Chad Basin in 2009. From 2017 to 2019, the UN verified 5,741 grave violations against children in north-east Nigeria: 1,385 children had been recruited and used by Boko Haram. These numbers are likely to be far higher in reality owing to access constraints in monitoring

Some boys have been forced to attack their own families to demonstrate loyalty to Boko Haram. Girls have been killed when forced to carry out roles as fighters and suicide bombers, in addition to being subjected to forced marriages and sexual violence. When these children exit the groups, they have experienced prolonged violence, their bonds to the communities have been severed, their personal development has been warped, and they continue to face stigma and social exclusion.

UNODC has been supporting the efforts of Nigeria in preventing and responding to violence against children by terrorist and violent extremist groups, under a new European funded project called “STRIVE Juvenile”. The project aims to increase resilience of children and society against violent extremist and terrorist tactics. From 25 to 27 January 2022, STRIVE Juvenile implemented in Nigeria its first ‘Capacity-building Workshop on Protecting child victims and witnesses in terrorism-related proceedings’. The workshop trained 29 professionals from the security sector, the justice system, and child protection, on strategies to improve the protection of child victims and witnesses of recruitment and exploitation by terrorist groups.

Acknowledging that protecting society from the threats associated with terrorism goes hand in hand with protecting children from being recruited and exploited by terrorist groups, Nigeria has recognized the urgency of appropriate responses. Rear Admiral YEM Musa, from the Office of the National Security Adviser, emphasized that “Investment in rehabilitation and peace, especially as it concerns our children, is essential to end the cycle of violence that is generated and exploited by the terrorists and violent extremists”. This was also echoed by the representative of the European Union, Mr. Jerome Rivière by stressing that the STRIVE Juvenile project “recognizes the importance of children’s role as agents of peace and in their potential to transform societal dynamics. (…) When children and families do not feel safe, counterterrorism cannot work”.

The recent workshop held in Abuja allowed Nigerian and international experts from the security sector, the justice system, and the child protection sector to discuss national context and practices, strategies for child sensitive and trauma informed interaction with children, as well as means of protection of these children throughout the justice process. “Terrorism remains one of the most potent challenges to Nigeria” commented Doctor Ifeakandu, from the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Nigeria, while participating in the workshop: “children are disproportionately affected by it and we need to find responses in line with their best interests”.

The workshop is part of a series of activities under the STRIVE Juvenile project. “We are grateful to the Office of the National Security Adviser, who has guided the first steps of STRIVE Juvenile Nigeria. The project and the activities foreseen will contribute to improve the situation only as long as they are in line but also guided by national interests and priorities”, recalled Bianca Kopp, Project Manager of STRIVE Juvenile.