Neglected Crisis Advocacy Brief12 July 2022
Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique, 2021.© Plan International / Lindsey Hutchison
Ahead of the UN Security Council’s Annual Debate on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), Plan International has produced this brief to shine a light on four crises which for too long have been neglected: Burkina Faso, Niger, NWSW Cameroon, and Mozambique. They are now all official CAAC Situations of Concern. We call on the UN Security Council and the international community to mobilize to better protect and support children living through these conflicts.
Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are at the epicenter of a fast-growing crisis with over 30 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2022. The number of internally displaced persons has doubled over the past three years in the tri-border areas due to attacks by Non-State Armed Groups. As of the end of May 2022, the number of people displaced by the crisis in the Central Sahel reached 2.4 million, with women and children accounting for more than half. This represents a 40 per cent increase in a single year, and a 56 per cent increase in Burkina Faso, the country with the highest caseload in the region.
Burkina Faso is the fourth most severely affected country in the world by terrorism and more than 65% of terrorism-related deaths are civilians. The conflict led the country to see a four-fold increase in internally displaced persons forced to abandon their homes in search of safety. In May 2022, an estimated 1,902,150 IDPs have been registered in the country, of whom 61.3% are children. The displacement situation also had a dire effect on food security because many farmers were forced to seek refuge and abandon their fields – in a country where 4 out of 5 people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Consequently, Burkina Faso is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in its history – primarily due to a multidimensional crisis driven by insecurity, political instability, climate change and rising food prices. Due to the severity of the Global Hunger Crisis, Plan International has elevated our efforts to respond to our highest internal emergency response level and are mobilizing our entire organization worldwide.
In addition to the current structural challenges to education, many schools have been targeted by armed groups, leaving the children without an education and facing critical protection issues. The United Nations has verified the killing and maiming of children, including from gunshots and improvised explosive devices; recruitment and use; sexual violence, including rape; abduction; denial of humanitarian access; and attacks against hospitals and schools. OCHA reported that as of May 2022, some 4,258 schools were closed, affecting the education of 708,000 students, of whom more 275,908 were girls as of March 2022.
- Immediate diplomatic and donor engagement is needed to alleviate the consequences of the worsening crisis and to push the government of transition to better protect the most vulnerable and ensure safety and security for Burkinabe civilians.
- Engage with the authorities to improve the protection of and provision of basic services to Burkinabe citizens and guarantee humanitarian access to those in need.
- Support the government of transition in its endeavor to restore peace to the country by implementing measures to end the proliferation of arms, reduce the abuses perpetrated by unidentified armed groups and improve land management and local governance.
- Call for the urgent need to scale up the emergency response across Burkina Faso, meet the growing and urgent needs of the displaced populations, including the severe hunger crisis, and prevent and protect children and particularly adolescent girls from different forms of gender-based violence.
Niger is facing a complex humanitarian emergency marked by persisting insecurity, endemic poverty and the effects of climate change. The country is experiencing an unprecedented crisis due to conflicts with extremist groups in the central Sahel on the one hand, and in the Lake Chad basin on the other. This situation has had a huge impact on the civilians, who are regularly the victims of violence, extortion, intimidation, and fatal attacks.
The complex crises in the Sahel region have particular and greater impacts on girls and women, who are disproportionately affected by harmful social norms and discrimination based on age and gender. It weakened the social cohesion and had caused the displacement of thousands of families, thus provoking a humanitarian emergency. An estimated of 293,181 IDPs have been registered in May 2022, with a significant number of people continuing to be displaced in the region of Tillaberi. The majority of displaced persons are children, some of whom are separated from their families. Many no longer have access to basic social services and are exposed to many risks, including early marriage, sexual violence, child labor, lack of access to education, and recruitment by armed groups.
During the past years, children of the conflict in Niger have been impacted by various Non-State Armed Groups. The attacks have resulted in killing students and targeting schools, which left many of these children traumatized by witnessing the attacks on their villages. The Niger Education Cluster reports that 792 schools closed as a result of the conflict, affecting 68,306 children, including 33,089 girls. With 76% of girls in Niger being married before the age of 18, many of these girls will end up being forced into marriage if they can’t attend school.
In addition, more than 4.4 million people in Niger will be acutely food insecure during the 2022 lean season – representing over 17 percent of the population. As in many other crises, when poverty and lack of access to livelihoods deepen, families increasingly resort to negative coping mechanisms, heightening girls’ risks of child marriage, early pregnancy, dropping out of school or child labour. Due to the severity of the Global Hunger Crisis, Plan International has elevated our efforts to respond to our highest internal emergency response level and are mobilizing our entire organization worldwide.
- Commit to sustained diplomatic and political engagement geared towards addressing the root causes of crises, in close collaboration with national and global protection actors, and humanitarian leadership. This must include more joined up advocacy, more engagement with armed groups, and more use of the weight of Member States in the UN Security Council, Human Rights Council, regional bodies and other multilateral mechanisms.
- The militarized approach to the crisis is driving vulnerability and insecurity. An environment of impunity is fueling human rights abuses, further eroding trust and social cohesion and undermining longer-term prospects for sustainable peace. Thoughtful policies and actions, that meaningfully consult affected communities, must be taken in steps to address this.
- The international community should help the government innovate its education system to meet the various demands (e.g. correspondence schools in camps or displaced locations) and make significant efforts to keep displaced girls in schools.
- Urgently provide funding to respond to the severe hunger crisis and pull millions of people back from the brink of famine. Funds need to be readily available, immediately provided, flexible, and unearmarked.
North-West and South-West regions (NWSW) Cameroon
The situation in the North-West and South-West regions (NWSW) of Cameroon remains tense with continued violence and targeted attacks against the civilian population, as well as health and education providers. The region has been engulfed in crisis since late 2016, which started as a low-scale insurgency. Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) have mobilized, in part, against Cameroon’s education system by forcing schools to close and attacking students, teachers, and education facilities, which is a grave violation against children in the NWSW region. The confrontations between the military and NSAGs have led to frequent roadblocks, ghost towns, disproportionate attacks and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In this time without a visible mediation effort, the NSAGs have also split into numerous factions making the conflict even more complex. Civilians are caught in the crossfire. At the end of 2021, armed violence had killed around 4,000 people in the North-West and South-West regions since fighting began in 2016.
Protection remains a major concern as civilians continue to be arbitrarily arrested, assaulted, abducted for ransom, and denied access to basic services. The conflict has caused the displacement of an estimated over half a million IDPs in the NWSW of Cameroon and triggered some 77,000 Cameroonians to cross the border and register as refugees in Nigeria.
The crisis in the NWSW regions of Cameroon has engendered a large number of attacks on healthcare, with health workers and patients threatened, abducted, injured or killed, as well as medical infrastructures damaged or destroyed. The most recent attack happened on June 10th where separatist fighters burned down the district hospital in Mamfe in SW region, depriving many people of access to health care.
A critical component of this NWSW crisis is education. On the one hand, it is significantly affected by the crisis, but on the other hand, strikes over education issues have been a catalyst for the conflict. NSAGs continue to enforce a boycott on education in NWSW regions, which kept hundreds of schools closed and affected over 700,000 school-aged children in between 2020 and 2021. The United Nations has also verified and confirmed 20 attacks on schools in 2020, which took place in the NWSW and Far North regions. NSAGs continue to abduct, kill, harass, threaten, or harm school students and staff at, or on the way to or from, school in the NWSW regions. These actions have negatively affected learning as it caused fear among teachers and students, which led to absences and dropouts. A study by Plan International found that both male and female adolescents in the NW and SW regions feared attending school due to military presence near facilities, which heightened risks of arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, and crossfire.
Girls especially face significant risk of gender-based violence and sexual violence, including rape. When Plan International asked girls in NWSW Cameroon how they would describe their safety and protection priorities, they answered with: “security, peace, and ceasefire.”
- Call all parties for an immediate ceasefire and to respect their international obligations to protect children from harm.
- Member states should advocate for Cameroon’s government to take a more peaceful approach to resolve these crises by opening genuine talks with separatist leaders. Member states should significantly increase active international support for peace talks, encourage inclusive dialogue, and offer funding for talks and for an independent mediator.
- Emphasize the need for a multi-pronged approach and to work with creativity within and with existing representations such as the African Union, A3, UN agencies, and other partners.
- Call on the belligerents to address persistent threats to the health and safety of health workers and patients.
The conflict in Cabo Delgado province of Northern Mozambique, ongoing since 2017, has impacted scores of civilians, causing destruction and displacement across the northern part of the country – and a resulting humanitarian crisis. An attack by the non-state armed group on the town of Palma, near the international gas industry hub, in March 2021 caused mass displacement and the halting of TotalEnergies’ new $20 billion gas project. At least 4,350 people are reported to have died in the conflict so far, including 1,978 civilians, although the actual number is likely to be much higher since the conflict has begun.
The situation for children in Northern Mozambique is particularly dire. Being separated from their parents and loved ones puts children at the highest risk of violence and can cause deep trauma. The conflict in Cabo Delgado is a significant protection crisis that cannot be ignored. Plan International is disturbed by the targeting of children in this conflict, and horrific reports of grave violations against children including killing and maiming, abduction, recruitment and use, attacks against schools and hospitals, and sexual violence especially against adolescent girls.
The armed group recently attacked some previously unharmed areas of Cabo Delgado, and often targets vulnerable civilians in unprotected communities. Brutal attacks in Ancuabe district between 2nd and 9th of June have triggered displacement movements of 11,737 individuals within Cabo Delgado province.
More than 784,00 persons in Northern Mozambique are internally displaced, including 663,276 in Cabo Delgado province alone. Over half of the displaced people in Mozambique (52%) were girls and women – we know that during conflict, existing inequalities are exacerbated and social protection networks are eroded, causing disproportionate hardship for girls and women. Children accounted for 59 percent of those IDPs living in temporary accommodation , either in IDP camps, with family and friends, or in new resettlement sites established by the government. In many cases, the displaced girls face more exposure to gender-based violence and sexual exploitation as well as their lack of access to reproductive health services and private, safe, and clean hygiene spaces.
The conflict has significantly hindered access to education and health services. It is reported that 43 schools, 104 classrooms, 30 administrative blocks and 5 buildings of Cabo Delgado’s education services have been destroyed since 2017. 80% of the health infrastructure in conflict-affected areas has been damaged, burned, vandalized, and abandoned because of the insecurity.
Mozambican security forces and deployed Rwandan and Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops have had military successes in pushing the non-state armed group out of occupied terrain, but this alone will not resolve the conflict. Human rights must be respected by all actors and grave violations against children in this conflict must end. A militarized and counter-terrorism approach alone is insufficient and dangerous because it fails to address the root causes of the conflict – including decades of underdevelopment in Cabo Delgado – which is increasingly being acknowledged in the public sphere – an essential step in any path towards peace and sustainable solutions.
- Leverage effective and creative, sustained diplomatic and political engagement towards meaningfully seeking an end to this conflict.
- Work to address the root causes of the conflict in a nuanced and comprehensive way so that the people of northern Mozambique can live with dignity and in peace and access opportunities, quality education, livelihoods, and share in the future of the country. Encourage meaningful dialogue with communities and make opportunities for long-term genuine sustainable development. All peacebuilding efforts must also include the genuine inclusion of girls, women, and a diversity of groups.
- Support humanitarians to support the population – including by advocating for humanitarian access and quick turnaround in the processing of visas for NGO staff.
- Commit to addressing grave violations against children in Mozambique and ensuring that they are not suffering in the darkness – ensure support both politically and financially to supporting protection efforts and responding to their humanitarian needs.
- Ensure that any refugee and IDP relocations, resettlement, and durable solutions are informed by the internationally recognized principles of safety and security, dignity, and voluntary and informed movement.
Emergencies, Protection from violence, Child protection in emergencies, Food crisis