The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that more than 300,000 children lost their lives in the last 12 years because of the insurgency ravaging the North East region.
In its latest statistics, UNICEF disclosed that over one million people have been displaced within the period under review.
The agency further divulged that no fewer than 5,129 out-of-school children were currently battling mental health challenges as a result of the conflict in the North.
According to a statement jointly released by the European Union (EU) and UNICEF, they noted that a recent Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) needs assessment of conflict-affected children in north-east Nigeria; revealed pervasive psychosocial distress manifesting as high levels of anxiety, suspiciousness, anger, aggressiveness, and hyper-vigilance.
“The scars of conflict are real and enduring for children,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria.
“Too many children in North East Nigeria are falling victim to a conflict they did not start. Attacks against children must stop immediately. In the meantime, we are committed to working with our partners to provide psychosocial and other support to conflict-affected children so they can regain their childhood and restart their lives.’’
Stress and violence have been linked to poor brain development, depression, poor self-esteem. Children exposed to conflict and violence are at risk of long-term mental health and psychosocial issues, it added.
As children continue to bear the brunt of the 12-year conflict in northeast Nigeria, the EU and UNICEF are working together to provide community-based psychosocial services aimed at improving children’s mental health.
Through the EU-funded Support to Early Recovery and Resilience Project implemented by UNICEF, at least 5,129 conflict-affected out-of-school children in Borno State, north-east Nigeria in six local government areas are receiving services including mental health support in safe spaces to strengthen their well-being, resilience, literacy skills, and self-reliance.
The project also supports vulnerable children across Borno with protection and health services, vocational and basic literacy skills, access to justice and security, under a holistic humanitarian intervention that has so far provided 15,552 out-of-school children with vocational training; 1,610 out-of-school children with literacy and numeracy skills and 5,194 children enrolled into integrated Qur’anic schools across focus LGAs.
According to the EU Head of Cooperation Cecile Tassin-Pelzer, “Addressing the psychosocial well-being and development of children and teachers in conflict situations is an important part of re-establishing education provision and enabling children to re-enter schools safely.”
UNICEF uses psychosocial support to help conflict-affected children manage their emotions, solve problems, deal with crises, and maintain healthy relationships.
The EU-funded programme in Borno State is a component of a three-year €10 million European Union Support to Early Recovery and Resilience package to support children, youths, and communities in Borno State.
Also included in the package is the provision of vocational skills and non-formal education to at least 25,000 young people, the construction and rehabilitation of learning centres, and the strengthening of education management information systems.