Armed groups increasingly target children in Niger

Children looking at the camera lens Children looking at the camera lens © Abubakar Balogun on Unsplash

This article is a brief presentation of the report published by Amnesty International on the situation of children in the Tillabéri region of Niger

The human rights group Amnesty International reported that attacks by militants in western Niger have worsened significantly since the beginning of the year, with children increasingly targeted. The group's report states that the conflict in the Tillabéri region, which borders Mali and Burkina Faso, is having a devastating impact on the population. According to the report, more than 500 civilians died from 1st January to 29th July this year as a result of conflict in the region, exceeding the 397 people killed in 2020, and more than 60 children were killed by armed groups in the tri-border area. As a result of the violence, hundreds of schools in the Tillabéri region have been closed and efforts by armed groups to recruit children aged 15-17 or younger into their ranks have intensified. The report accuses the Nigerian security forces not only of failing to protect civilians from escalating violence, but also of committing abuses by preventing the population's access to social services, including health and humanitarian aid.

The research for this report was conducted between February and March 2021 by Amnesty International delegates in the towns of Niamey, Tillabéri and Ouallam. The people interviewed were from conflict-affected families living in internally displaced sites or with host families. In addition to civilians affected by the conflict, Amnesty International also interviewed Nigerian government officials, members of UN agencies and humanitarian organizations, and Nigerian civil society activists.

The Tillabéri region, also known as " tri-border area", is located on the border between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. Violence in this territory has dramatically increased since 2012: it followed the uprising of ethnic Tuareg separatists from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), at the time allied with armed groups linked to al-Qaeda, who seized control of northern Mali. The security crisis then spread throughout the cross-border area as fighting between armed groups escalated. The two main armed groups responsible for the insurgencies in the area are Al-Qaeda affiliates Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). ISGS has undertaken repeated large-scale attacks against civilians on the Niger-Mali border since early 2020, forcibly displacing entire villages, while JNIM has taken root near the Niger-Burkina Faso border, recruiting and exercising control over the daily lives of communities. 

Amnesty International considers the situation in that area of Niger constitutive of a non-international armed conflict since the end of 2019, given the intensity of violence and the level of organisation of ISGS and JNIM. Both groups have committed war crimes, including the killing of civilians and the targeting of schools in the Tillabéri region. ISGS is also alleged to have committed crimes against humanity for targeting or affecting children. Both groups have a stance against secular or western education, which explains why they have targeted schools, attacked teachers and indirectly provoked unprecedented school closures in the area. In fact, from the beginning of 2021 until June 2021, due to the attacks, 377 schools were closed and about 31,0000 children were deprived of the opportunity to have an education. 

The situation calls for urgent action by the government and its international partners to prevent further abuses and to protect and promote the fundamental rights of those affected, including the rights to education and health. Without such measures, the situation of children and of much of the population is likely to deteriorate further, with armed groups exploiting state absence to carry out severe abuses.The report calls on ISGS, JNIM and the Nigerian FDS to cease all violations and abuses against the civilian population and to commit to comply with international humanitarian law in the future. It calls on the government and its partners to expand humanitarian assistance and programming for those affected by the conflict, including specific measures to support children. Finally, it calls for the creation of programmes to discourage the recruitment and use of children in armed groups, for example by providing older children with viable alternatives through vocational training or employment opportunities.

On 2 August 2021, Amnesty International presented the main findings described in this report in a letter to President Mohamed Bazoum and requested a response from the government on those findings and related questions.


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Author: Eleonora Lombardi; Editor: Jasmina Saric

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