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The Children Caught In The Growing Crisis In Africa Must Not Be Forgotten

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Two years ago, it made international headlines. Today, most of the world barely takes a second glimpse.

When more than 270 schoolgirls were abducted from the town of Chibok, northeastern Nigeria in April 2014, the world was shocked. #BringBackOurGirls began trending on a global scale. Two years later, not only are the Chibok girls still missing, but thousands of other children in the region have also disappeared. They have been separated from their families, exploited, and abused. Millions more risk losing their childhood as they are exposed to violence, hunger and kept out of schools.

Since May 2013, 2.3 million people have been displaced, more than half of them children, and the challenges they face are many.

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The Boko Haram insurgency has triggered one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa, which is engulfing northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. Communities in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger have also succumbed to fear, violence and displacement. This complex emergency is first and foremost a crisis of children's care and protection. Children are being killed, maimed, abducted and recruited into armed groups. They are being used in 'suicide' attacks -- 44 children in 2015 alone, and most of them young girls. These children are victims, not perpetrators.

A tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. But to forget these vulnerable children would be an even greater tragedy.

Since May 2013, 2.3 million people have been displaced, more than half of them children, and the challenges they face are many.

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Children's care and protection is placed at risk as they try to escape the violence. With infrastructure destroyed and limited access to humanitarian relief, children and their families are not getting the basic services they need to survive. Children who have escaped from armed groups are often seen as potential security threats. Survivors of sexual violence, and their children born as a result of sexual violence are bearing the burden of stigma.

With an increasing number of children out of school, the future of these countries is also at a far greater risk beyond the current violence. In northeastern Nigeria, more than one million children are missing out on their education. More than 1,800 schools in the region have been closed, damaged, looted, set on fire or used to shelter the displaced. Teachers and students alike are too afraid to go back to school. In times of crisis, an entire generation's potential can be lost if children are not provided with safe, accessible learning environments. With so many children missing out on acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, countries risk reversing years of development progress.

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The conflict is also worsening an already critical food and nutrition crisis. In the Boko Haram-affected areas of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, up to 195,000 children were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition between January 2014 and January 2016. Farming, fishing and cross-border trade have been disrupted. Families are losing their livelihoods. Even when people are not too scared of suicide bombings to visit the local market, they can no longer afford even basic food items.

Violence against children and women must stop, and discrimination and stigma put to an end.
UNICEF is there, and we are scaling up our humanitarian response. We have teams in all of the hardest hit areas of each country, working to provide access to safe water, education, counselling and psychosocial support, as well as vaccines and treatment for malnutrition. But there is more work to be done.

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More services must be made available to children who are trying to cope with the trauma of what they have experienced. Violence against children and women must stop, and discrimination and stigma put to an end. Children associated with armed groups must be released and reintegrated into their communities. Ensuring adequate investment in education is critical, in order to provide children and young people with the knowledge and skills required to rebuild resilient and peaceful communities.

Most of all, as this crisis drags on into another year, we must not forget vulnerable children who still need our help. The quieter their voices become, the more work we must do to ensure their survival and secure their futures so they can thrive in safe communities.

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