Fighting between the Nigerian military forces, civilian self-defence groups and the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram has displaced nearly 800,000 children, a new report from Unicef has revealed.
Entitled ‘Missing Childhoods’, the report claims that the number of children running for their lives within north-east Nigeria, or crossing over the border to Chad, Niger and Cameroon, has more than doubled in just less than a year.
Boko Haram militants had abducted more than 200 schoolgirls alone from the Government Secondary boarding school in the north-east state of Chibok, in April 2014.
UNICEF West and Central Africa regional director Manuel Fontaine said: "The abduction of more than 200 girls in Chibok is only one of endless tragedies being replicated on an epic scale across Nigeria and the region.
"Scores of girls and boys have gone missing in Nigeria – abducted, recruited by armed groups, attacked, used as weapons, or forced to flee violence.
"They have the right to get their childhoods back."
According to the report, the conflict is exerting a heavy toll on children in Nigeria and across the region, with Boko Haram using children within its ranks as combatants, cooks, porters and look-outs.
Young women and girls are being subjected to forced marriage, forced labour and rape, while students and teachers have been intentionally targeted with more than 300 schools damaged or destroyed and at least 196 teachers and 314 schoolchildren killed by the end of 2014.
Unicef claims to have supplied counselling and psychosocial support to more than 60,000 children affected by the conflict in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, to help them ease the pain of their memories, reduce stress and cope with emotional distress over the last six months.
Currently working with partners to provide basic health services and restore access to education to affected children, the agency is also calling foreign donors to accelerate their financial support for relief efforts in Nigeria and the neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria have partnered with Niger and Chad to create a new military alliance to fight against the Boko Haram, which allegedly killed more than 5,000 Nigerian civilians between 2009 and 2014.
The Chadian Army, supported by soldiers from Niger, successfully pushed back Boko Haram fighters from Malam Fatori in remote town near the Niger border earlier this month.
Image: A Nigerian citizen with her daughter in a camp for internally displaced people in north-east Nigeria. Photo: copyright UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0476/Esiebo.