One year has passed since the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. A UNICEF report released on the anniversary estimates 800,000 children have been displaced by the terror group.
More than half of the 1.5 million people made homeless by Boko Haram are children, according to the UNICEF report released Monday.
The UN agency said the number of child refugees fleeing the Islamists had doubled over the past year, with many ending up in other parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad or Cameroon, cut off from their families, education and health care.
The report, titled "Missing Childhoods," says Boko Haram uses children as fighters, cooks, porters, scouts, sexual slaves and human bombs.
"Scores of girls and boys have gone missing in Nigeria - abducted, recruited by armed groups, attacked, used as weapons or forced to flee violence," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF's regional director for West and Central Africa.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language, has also targeted schools. They have damaged or destroyed more than 300, and killed 314 students and 196 teachers over the past two years, according to UNICEF.
The agency's report coincides with the first anniversary of the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok on the night of April 14-15, 2014. Dozens of the girls managed to escape, but more than 219 remain unaccounted for.
Fontaine said those abductions were only one of numerous "tragedies being replicated on an epic scale across Nigeria and the region."
Girls still missing
The Chibok kidnapping sparked worldwide condemnation, and led to the launch of the global social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai used the anniversary on Monday to criticize the Nigerian government and world leaders for failing to find the girls.
"They must do much more to help secure your release. I am among many people pressuring them to make sure you are freed," the 17-year-old wrote in a letter to the missing teenagers.
Meanwhile, a Nigerian woman who was also kidnapped by Boko Haram last year but escaped after six months in captivity, has told the German news agency dpa she saw the missing schoolgirls in Gwoza. Liatu Andrawus, 23, said she saw the girls every day between October and December, but doesn't know what happened to them after government forces recaptured the town in March. She says it's possible they fled into the nearby Mandera mountains.
"I saw the Chibok girls. Almost all of them had been married off and stayed in different houses in Gwoza," says Andrawus. "They looked very haggard, very thin."
The BBC has also spoken to a woman who reported seeing more than 50 of the girls alive in Gwoza three weeks ago.
Boko Haram has been blamed for the deaths of at least 14,000 people in northern Nigeria since 2009, when the group launched an insurgency aimed to create an Islamic state in the region.
nm/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa)