Boko Haram Nigeria
Fatoumata, 10, brings her three-year-old brother to a UNICEF-supported nutrition centre Unicef

Fatoumata is a young girl who lives in northern Nigeria, where terror group Boko Haram has killed and displaced thousands of people since 2009 in a bid to establish an Islamic caliphate and impose its own version of Sharia law.

Fatoumata lost her father during a raid carried out by the militants. Her mother passed away after reaching the Unicef-supported Dalori camp in Maiduguri, Borno state, the epicentre of Boko Haram's insurgency.

Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorists?

Boko Haram (recently renamed Iswap) fights against Western influence in Nigeria and aims to impose its version of Sharia law on the country. The group declared an Islamic caliphate in Gwoza, along the Cameroon border, in August 2014.

Boko Haram has raided several cities in the north of the country in a bid to take control of more land.

Three states − Adamawa, Borno and Yobe − have been under a state of emergency since May 2013, due to Boko Haram's attacks.

The group has killed at least 2,600 people since the beginning of 2015. More than 180 have been killed since the beginning of June.

Aged only 10, Fatoumata cannot go to school and has to look after her three-year-old brother, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

As her parents are not there to protect her, she has become an easy target for the militants who abduct young children and force them to carry out suicide bomb attacks in busy areas such as markets and bus stations.

Fatoumata's story is not unusual in northern Nigeria where three states – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa – have been under a state of emergency since May 2013 due to Boko Haram's attacks.

The besieged area is also witnessing a surge in the number of suicide bombings involving women and children. Unicef's estimates show that more suicide bomb attacks have occurred since the beginning of 2015 than in the whole of last year.

In an interview with IBTimes UK, Unicef communication specialist for West and Central Africa Laurent Duvillier said he met Fatoumata while spending five days at the Dalori camp.


Capital: Abuja

Population: 174,507,53 (2013 census)

Largest cities: Lagos, Kano, Abuja

Major ethnic groups: 21% Yoruba, 21% Hausa,
18% Igbo

Languages: English, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba

Religion: 50% Muslim, 40% Christian, 10% other

Currency: Naira (N) 1N = £0.0033; US$0.0050

"I was in a nutrition camp in one of the centres and one girl of 10 came. She was carrying her brother of three on her back. She came to the centre run by Unicef and state officials as we provide ready-to-use therapeutic food," he said.

"That was her second visit and she had come to get her weekly ration. I asked her: What is your story? And she told me.

"This little girl of 10 found herself being the breadwinner, the head of the household. This is the kind of story that we see. We also see larger groups of children who are unaccompanied. This is very concerning as children are extremely vulnerable, for all kinds of exploitation," he continued.

"Children are not perpetrators because they are not behind the attacks. They are being used, there is child recruitment, there is abduction. We have been talking a lot about the [abducted] schoolgirls from Chibok, but this is the tip of the iceberg."

How Unicef is helping displaced Nigerian children

Duvillier explained that Unicef has created recreational areas in displacement camps, run by Nigerian authorities.

We also see larger groups of children who are unaccompanied. This is very concerning as children are extremely vulnerable, for all kinds of exploitation. We have been talking a lot about the abducted schoolgirls from Chibok, but this is the tip of the iceberg.
Laurent Duvillier - Unicef

The UN agency trains volunteers, mostly displaced people, to deliver assistance at the camps.

"Many volunteers are teachers and they know how to approach children. Many are also displaced, and they can relate to children who, most of the times, have witnessed atrocities and have horrible stories to tell," he said.

"We use recreational activities to make children play and make sure they feel comfortable.Slowly they start feeling more comfortable talking about what they have been through.

"Some of them have seen their own parents being killed, many of them have moved for several days being literally hunted by Boko Haram. It's not that they move from their village to the camp, they move from one village to another village – so image how exhausting and traumatising this experience must be."

Duvillier explained that camps are sometimes the only place where children can speak about what happened to them.

"Their own parents have been traumatised by the experience and don't want to talk about it, they just want to close the chapter."

Children are also able to attend lessons at the camps and, according to Duvillier, this is important to show them that they can go back to a normality.

"It's crucial for those kids to have a place where they can learn and feel they can go back to a normal life. We want to show to children that they are safe and there is another life that starts here and now."

When contacted by IBTimes UK, government spokeman Mike Omeri said the government, led by newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari, is aware of the dire humanitarian situation in the north east.

"The president has not relented in working towards stopping the reasons that give rise to a humanitarian situation in Maiduguri," he said.

"So we have stepped up the efforts and had meetings with regional leaders to ensure the strengthening of the efforts to stop the insurgency.

"The Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency [Nema] has deployed its capacity to Maiduguri and most parts of the north east to bring some relief to the people. They [Nema] are working hard to ensure that the best interventions are made to help people, especially women and children."