The European Union (EU) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) have estimated that more than 300,000 children have lost their lives in the troubled north-eastern region of the country.
The two international bodies said they were working together to provide community-based psychosocial services aimed at improving mental health for 5,129 out-of-school children in conflict-ravaged parts of Borno State, in the North-east.
In a statement issued on Monday, UNICEF said, “More than 300,000 children have been killed in Nigeria’s North-east, while over one million have been displaced. 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 statement explained that the EU-funded programme in Borno State was 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.
Included in the package were 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.
It stated that the programme was being implemented through the EU-funded support to Early Recovery and Resilience Project, implemented by UNICEF. The project also supports vulnerable children across Borno with protection and health services, vocational and basic literacy skills, access to justice and security.
UNICEF described the programme as a holistic humanitarian intervention that had so far provided 15,552 out-of-school children with vocational training; 1,610 out-of-school children with literacy and numeracy skills; and enrolled 5,194 children into integrated Qur’anic schools across focus local government areas.
“The scars of conflict are real and enduring for children,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria.
UNICEF said, “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.”
UNICEF explained that 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.
The Head of Cooperation, EU, Cecile Tassin-Pelzer, said, “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 crisis, and maintain healthy relationships.
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja