The United Nations Children Fund, (UNICEF) has disclosed that an estimated 19 million children globally in 2019 are living in displacement within their countries due to conflict and violence for many years.
The organization warned that internally displaced children, Nigeria inclusive, are among the world’s most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a press statement by UNICEF, signed by the UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, and made available to newsmen in Bauchi, the warning came as the organization released a report looking at the risks and challenges facing internally displaced children, and the urgent actions needed to protect them.
“In North-east Nigeria, there are currently 1.9 million people displaced from their homes. Sixty per cent of them are children, with 1 in 4 under the age of five. The report, ‘Lost at Home’, looks at the risks and challenges internally displaced children face, and the urgent actions needed to protect them.
“As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, these children are among the most vulnerable to its direct and indirect impacts. Hundreds of thousands of children in north-east Nigeria are living in the shadow of conflict and now in the increasingly challenging shadow of a global pandemic and its potential socio-economic aftermath.
“When a new crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic emerges, displaced children are especially vulnerable and the gaps in our ability to keep them safe are even more stark. We must urgently work together – all of us, government and humanitarian partners – to keep them safe, healthy, learning and protected.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is making a critical situation for displaced children and families around the world even worse. They often live in overcrowded camps or informal settlements, where access to basic hygiene and health services is limited, and where physical distancing is not possible. This is true in Nigeria’s north-east, where conditions pose a particular challenge to containing the possible spread of diseases like COVID-19,” the statement read.
The UNICEF Representative in Nigeria said that Internally displaced children around the world often lack access to basic services and are at risk of exposure to violence, exploitation, abuse and trafficking, adding that they are also at risk of child labour, child marriage and family separation, which all pose direct threats to their health and safety.
He further said there were 12 million new displacements of children in 2019, of which 3.8 million of them were caused by conflict and violence, and 8.2 million by disasters linked mostly to weather-related events like flooding and storms.
According to him, UNICEF and partners are currently working to protect displaced children in north-east Nigeria through critical health and nutrition services, providing access to life-saving WASH services through accelerated construction of facilities and adapted solutions to continuing education, including the provision of radios for distance learning while schools are closed.
“What we really need now are strategic investments and a united effort from government, civil society, private sector, humanitarian actors and children themselves to find solutions that can protect children from the effects of displacement – especially as we face the COVID-19 pandemic – and also address and help mitigate the longer-term impacts this can have on children’s health and education,” Hawkins said.