Abidjan, Ivory Coast – Clashes on the Niger border with Mali and Burkina Faso have led to an increase in the number of children being recruited or targeted by armed groups, Amnesty International said in a report released on Monday.
In response to the crisis, Matt Wells, Amnesty’s deputy director, said: “In the Tilaberi region of Niger, an entire generation is growing up surrounded by death and destruction.”
“An armed group has repeatedly attacked schools and reserves, and is targeting children for recruitment,” he added in a statement.
Amnesty has blamed Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and the al-Qaeda-linked Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen (JNIM) for creating a “devastating effect on children” in the region.
With an area of 100,000 square kilometers (38,000 square miles) bordering Malta and Burkina Faso, a 57-page report on the impact of conflict on children in Tillaberi, west of Niger, has been published by rights groups such as Germa, Fulani, Tuareg and Hausa.
According to the conflict-tracking organization ACLED, cited by Amnesty, violence against civilians caused 544 conflict-related deaths between January and July 23 this year, surpassing the 397 people already killed in 2020 as a whole.
“Armed groups have killed more than 600 children in the Niger tri-border area in 2021,” the report said.
During the study of the report, Amnesty 1 spoke to 16 boys who had survived an ISGS attack on their village.
“We are all used to hearing and seeing the sound of gunfire [dead] People are layered on top [dead] People, ”said one boy, ages 13 or 14.
Another boy, who witnessed the killing of his 12-year-old friend Wahab in March, told investigators: “I thought about Wahab and how he was killed.
“Sometimes I dream of two motors, people chasing motorbikes or begging Wahab [attackers] Again, ”he said.
According to Amnesty, “both ISGS and JNIM have committed war crimes and other abuses in conflict, including the killing of civilians and the targeting of schools.”
The report said, “Many children are experiencing trauma after witnessing deadly attacks in their villages. In some areas, women and girls are barred from activities outside the home, and fighters are at risk of abduction or forced marriage.”
Witnesses said JNIM chose to recruit men between the ages of 15 and 17, and probably younger, with bribes for food, money and clothes.
“The Nigerian government and its international partners must take immediate steps to monitor and prevent further repression and protect the fundamental rights of all those affected by this deadly conflict – especially children,” Wells said.
Amnesty International said it had interviewed 119 people, including 229 children, three young people aged 18 to 20 and 36 parents.
Others interviewed included NGO and humanitarian workers, UN officials and government officials.