The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern over growing attacks on schoolchildren, as well as child abductions in Nigeria, with a call on authorities in the country to do more to ensure that children can safely live and go to school or fetch water without fear of being attacked or taken from their families.
UNICEF, in a statement yesterday by its Executive Director, Ms. Henrietta Fore, lamented that no fewer than 950 students were abducted in Nigeria since December 2020.
Also, people whose children and wards were kidnapped from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna on Monday, have accused the school authorities of complacency and negligence, for not taking action to beef up security around the premises, after receiving a threat letter from bandits planning to kidnap the pupils.
UNICEF stated that over the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents in both the North-central and North-west, with many still in captivity.
UNICEF said on July 5, 2020, 150 students were reportedly abducted from a school in Kaduna State, marking the latest incident in an alarming spate of attacks against children and abductions, including of students, in parts of West and Central Africa.
Fore added that such incidents appeared to be increasing in frequency, raising fears for the safety and well-being of the region’s children.
Citing the latest report of the United Nations Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, UNICEF said one in every three child victims of grave violations had been in West, and Central Africa.
It also highlighted the attacks on civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, DRC and Niger Republic.
UNICEF said: “Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the UN estimates that at least 950 students have been abducted from their schools by armed men since December. Over the past six weeks alone, nearly 500 children were abducted in four separate incidents across the central and North-west parts of the country. Many of these children have not yet been returned. It is hard to fathom the pain and fear that their families and loved ones are suffering in their absence.
“It is not enough to condemn these crimes, not when millions of children face a worsening protection crisis. Children living in these areas need concerted action to ensure that they can safely live and go to school or fetch water without fear of being attacked or taken from their families.”
According to Fore, non-state armed groups and all parties to conflict committing violations of children’s rights – have a moral and legal obligation to immediately cease attacks against civilians and to respect and protect civilians and civilian objects during any military operations.
Fore also urged them not to impede but facilitate the efforts of UNICEF and other humanitarian actors working to reach vulnerable children.
She said: “The international community also has an important role to play. We need our donors to increase their contributions so that we can expand our work to reduce children’s vulnerabilities and increase their resilience to keep them safe from harm. These efforts include creating safe temporary learning environments for children in areas where schools have been closed because of insecurity, providing psychosocial support to children affected by violence, and supporting education on mine risk awareness.”
According to her, every effort must be made to reverse the spiraling protection crisis for children as the region is on the brink of catastrophe.”
Parents of kidnapped pupils accuse Kaduna school of negligence
Meanwhile, people whose children and wards were kidnapped from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna on Monday have accused the school authorities of complacency and negligence, for not taking action to beef up security around the premises, after receiving a threat letter from bandits, planning to kidnap the pupils.
The bandits, last Sunday, sent a threat letter to the school, announcing their plan to kidnap the pupils on Tuesday, but brought forward the timeline by a day when they kidnapped over 149 pupils, while 28 were said to have escaped.
The parents who formed different prayer groups in the school compound yesterday, called on God to intervene and protect their children and wards in captivity.
They said they had to go spiritual because they had lost confidence in the government in protecting lives and property.
They also blamed the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, for not doing enough to rescue kidnapped pupils.
They said the show of expression of concern by the state government and the federal government was not enough to bring back their children and wards.
Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna State Chapter, Rev. John Hayab, who spoke yesterday on ARISE NEWS Channels, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, confirmed that the pupils got a letter on Sunday from the bandits.
According to him, the pupils showed the letter to their patron, who dismissed the threat letter and accused them of being unnecessarily afraid of writing their examinations that were supposed to start the next day.
He said the pupils also took the letter to the matron of the female students and got the same reaction from her.
He said: “Instead of Tuesday, the bandits struck on Monday and kidnapped several students, which I see as negligence on the part of the school authority, who had been pre-informed of the plan to kidnap the students.
“The distance between the school and the police station in that area is about one kilometre and the distance between the school and the divisional police headquarters in the state is between six and seven kilometres. I cannot understand why the school authority could not take the threat letter serious and inform the police for necessary action
“As a Baptist school, owned by the Baptist Church, I think the church should investigate the school authority for their negligence.”
He added that the action of the school matron and the school authority compounded the African challenge, where parents do not take their children seriously, even when they are saying something serious, just because they are children.
He advised parents and teachers to always listen to children, respect them and take them seriously whenever they lodge complaints.
He said: “Apart from being the CAN chairman of Kaduna State, I am a parent and my child attends the school and I am also a pastor in Baptist Church, which was the reason I sent my son who is in SS3 to that school.
“So, if the expression of concern can rescue those in captivity and put an end to kidnapping, then kidnapping would have long ended in Kaduna State and in other states of the federation.”
According to him, the current demand for food items by the bandits, without talking about ransom, showed that the bandits were confident that nobody, including the government, could bring them to order.
“If the bandits are on the run, they will not be asking for food items like rice, beans, garri, and oil to feed students in captivity. The best they can do is to ask for ransom, but instead of ransom, they are demanding for food items. They make these demands because they know that government and the parents can do nothing to them,” Hayab said.
Narrating the ordeal of his son during the kidnapping, Hayab said his 16-year- old son was among the few that escaped when the bandits struck.
He, however, said he would not disclose everything his son told him because the government had already started denying some of the things that happened when the pupils were kidnapped.