When 276 schoolgirls were abducted from a school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria five years ago by the militant group Boko Haram, the world was outraged and their kidnapping dominated international headlines. Almost 60 girls managed to escape in the melee following their abduction while others have been released in the last few years, but about 100 are still missing and their condition is unknown.
As Nigeria marked the fifth anniversary of the abduction on Sunday, grave human rights violations still persist in the country. A few of the abducted girls who managed to escape told Human Rights Watch that "they and many other female captives were subjected to abuse including forced marriage and rape." Children, mostly girls, have been "deliberately targeted" by militants as girls "have been subjected to forced marriage, forcible religious conversion, physical and psychological abuse."
They have also been coerced into becoming suicide bombers, a strategy used by Boko Haram after abducting thousands of children over the past five years and using them as porters, slaves and fighters.
There was no sign of the girls until May 2016 when Amina Ali, 21 and her four-month-old baby were rescued in Borno state by soldiers and a civilian vigilante group. In October 2016, 21 girls were released after mediation by Nigerian teacher and lawyer Zannah Mustapha, who went on to win a United Nations award for his efforts. A further 82 girls were freed in May 2017 after mediation involving a payment to the insurgents and the release of some of the group's imprisoned senior members.
Children who have not been abducted by the militant group also face hardships such as worsening life conditions and a lack of access to education. The ones who stay have no access to school, while others who are internally displaced suffer from overcrowded schools. Nearly 60 percent of children in the north of the country do not have access to education, as "more than 300 schools have been severely damaged or destroyed. At least 196 teachers were killed in the period between January 2012 and December 2014," according to a report released by UNICEF in April 2015.
Last year on the fourth anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping, the U.N. children's agency said more than 1,000 other children had also been kidnapped by militants since 2013. In 2016, Human Rights Watch put the number of young boys, some as young as five, in the hands of the group at up to 10,000.
Whatever their fate, and that of the Chibok girls, a decade of conflict has taken a heavy toll. The Boko Haram insurgency has claimed 27,000 lives in Nigeria where nearly 2 million people still cannot return to their homes and have also spilled over into neighboring countries Niger, Chad and Cameroon.