West & Central Africa

Where are our missing children? Parent pleads with the world to take notice

Over 500 children, between the ages of 2 and 17, abducted by Boko Haram since March 2015, “are still missing and no one is talking about them,” according to one helpless parent from Damasak, a predominantly Christian community in Borno State.

Boko Haram terrorists attacked Damasak in November 2014 and took control of the town. The terrorist instituted a terror administration in the town and conscripted “about 400 women and children, including at least 300 elementary school students”, according to a human rights report says.

The children, between the ages of two and 17, were locked up in the Zanna Mobarti Primary School, and schooled in the Boko Haram ideology.

A prominent church worker (whose name has been withheld for security reasons) from Adamawa, a state bordering Borno State, the operational base of Boko Haram, told Global Christian News that Damasak had been a Christian missionary community for his team for years.

“They are predominantly Christians with a few animist in the town. The few Muslims there had welcomed Boko Haram into the community and we fled and never went back again.”

The church worker added, “I weep every time I wonder if the teenage suicide bombers that get killed are from these Christian children, forced to convert and indoctrinated to detonate bombs.”

During that period, a Human Rights report says, Nigerian soldiers turned back residents of Damasak who tried to flee to Maiduguri or other locations. According to the report, soldiers were “suspicious that Boko Haram insurgents might be hidden among those fleeing.”

A farmer who escaped from Damasak, said that soldiers turned people back: “They would not allow you to leave and if you tried, [the soldiers] would smash your car and burst your tires. So you had to look for another way out around the town or [try to cross] the river, if you can swim. It was terrible.”

When security forces from Chad and Niger attacked Damasak and freed the town in 2015, the terrorist group escaped with some women and hundreds of children abducted from Damasak. Their fate is unknown.

“Three hundred children have been missing for a year, and yet there has been not a word from the Nigerian government,” according to Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch,

“The authorities need to wake up and find out where the Damasak children and other captives are and take urgent steps to free them,” he added.

Though Damasak is now free of the terror group, no-one is talking about the missing children and attention has been focussed on the remaining 190j Chibok school girls still missing.

The traditional leaders of Damasak told reporters that they submitted a list of 501 missing children to police and local government offcials in April 2015, but that they received no response. A 72-year-old man, Alhaji Zarami Wololo said 16 members of his family members are on that list.

Nigerian authorities have never made mention of the missing women and children from Damasak.

Parents, desperate for information, rely only on rumours from refugees returning from Niger claiming that up to 10 of the missing children escaped their Boko Haram captors between December 2016 and February 2017, and are now living with relatives in Diffa, Niger.

The anonymous church worker said that they were working among parents to get information on the children. “My prayer and hope is that, as a church, we can try to decontaminate those that have escaped and restore the love of Christ in the community. My heart is for Damasak and I hope to go to the town in the coming weeks.”