United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has warned that internally displaced children – including in Nigeria – are among the world’s most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 percent of them are children, with 1 in 4 under the age of five.
Globally, an estimated 19 million children – more than ever before, according to UNICEF – were living in displacement within their own countries due to conflict and violence in 2019 – some of them for years.
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 it’s potential socio-economic aftermath,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
“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.
Internally displaced children around the world often lack access to basic services and are at risk of exposure to violence, exploitation, abuse and trafficking, according to the UNICEF report. They are also at risk of child labour, child marriage and family separation, which all pose direct threats to their health and safety.
According to the report, there were 12 million new displacements of children in 2019 – 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.
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 affects 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,” said Peter Hawkins.