The European Union (EU) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are providing community-based psychosocial services to more than 5,000 out-of-school children in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria.
The objective is to improve the mental health of displaced children who do not attend school.
UNICEF said children continued to bear the brunt of the 12-year conflict and were often the victims of abuse by the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), more commonly referred to as Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and criminal gangs.
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 in six local government areas were receiving services, including mental health support, in safe spaces to strengthen their wellbeing, resilience, literacy skills and self-reliance.
The project had 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.
Folashade Adebayo, the communications officer for UNICEF Nigeria, said more than 300,000 children had been killed in northeast Nigeria and more than one million had been displaced.
A recent Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) needs assessment of conflict-affected children in northeast Nigeria revealed pervasive psychosocial distress manifesting in high levels of anxiety, suspiciousness, anger, aggressiveness and hyper-vigilance.
Babagana Umara Zulum, the governor of Borno State, said on Twitter: “I am ready to work with UNICEF to protect and promote the rights of children, especially those affected by conflict.”
“The scars of conflict are real and enduring for children,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria. “Too many children in northeast 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.’’
UNICEF said stress and violence had been linked to poor brain development, depression and poor self-esteem, and children exposed to conflict and violence were at risk of long-term mental health and psychosocial issues.
It said psychosocial support would help conflict-affected children to manage their emotions, solve problems, deal with crisis and maintain healthy relationships.