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Safe spaces in Niger for survivors of conflict

Children forced to flee their homes as a result of Boko Haram violence are overcoming the stress they have experienced through psychosocial support and the chance to learn and play with their peers.

Children at a child-friendly space in Niger
Children affected by the violence in the Lake Chad Basin are at risk of sexual abuse, violence and exploitation.

As a result of violent attacks by Boko Haram, nearly 340,000 people are in need of support in the Diffa region of Niger. This includes thousands of refugee children from Nigeria who fled to Niger in order to escape the violence. However, the government has declared a state of emergency in Diffa following sporadic attacks there.

Overall, 17 million people have been affected by Boko Haram’s violent attacks and the counter-insurgency measures that have been taking place in the Lake Chad Basin (covering Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria) since 2009.

Fleeing violence

Nigerian refugee Mahamadou in Niger
Mahamadou was chased from his home by Boko Haram militants.

Mahamadou, 14, is among those who had to flee from Nigeria to save his life. “We had to leave our home village to avoid Boko Haram attacks,” he says. “Unfortunately Boko Haram came to find us. They chased us and finally we took refuge in Diffa. It was difficult and we had to cross the Yobe River to get to safety. I was thirsty and didn’t have shoes. We have been separated from our close relatives and friends”

Falmata, 10, fled to Niger 4 years ago. “Before the attacks by Boko Haram, we lived happily in our homes,” she says. “Then we had to leave everything, abandoning our house and community.”

Children who have been affected by the violence, especially those who have become orphaned or separated from their families, are at high risk of sexual abuse, violence and exploitation, including being recruited into armed groups. In addition, the children who have been abused or exploited are often stigmatised if they are able to re-join their communities.

Protection for vulnerable children

As a result, there is a significant need to keep children safe and provide psychosocial support for those who have been affected so they are able to come overcome their experiences.

Boko Haram came to find us. They chased us and finally we took refuge in Diffa

Plan International Niger has set up child-friendly spaces where children can learn, play and interact with their peers. At these spaces, children also have access to psychosocial support. So far, over 3,000 vulnerable children, including Mahamadou and Falmata, have benefitted from psychosocial support in our child-friendly spaces in Niger.

Mahamadou says, “I do not currently attend school. But luckily I come to the child-friendly space created by Plan International. It distracts me from my situation and takes care of time during the day.”

Nigerian refugee Falmata in Niger
Falmata (centre) is attending a Plan International child-friendly space in Niger.

Plan International is also increasing awareness about violence against children in refugee camps in Niger. We are educating parents and communities on the negative impacts of violence and are creating community-led groups that prevent, identify and report cases of violence.

Despite this project, severe needs still remain in the region and Falmata is unsure what the future will hold. She says, “I do not know what tomorrow will bring. I only wish to be in a place of peace where I can study to succeed in life.”

Learn more about our global work on child protection in emergencies