In March 2015, Boko Haram fighters fleeing security forces from Chad and Niger escaped with some women and hundreds of children abducted from Damasak in Borno State. At least 300 of them were students at the Zanna Mobarti Primary School.
Boko Haram insurgents attacked Damasak in November 2014, took control of the town, and abducted children between ages 2 and 17 years. The children were locked up in the Zanna Mobarti Primary School, which was used as a base by Boko Haram to tutor captives about their ideology.
Four months later, Chadian and Nigerien forces expelled Boko Haram from the area, but quickly returned when the forces left in April 2015. They were finally routed from the town by the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in July 2016, and Nigerian army’s 145 Task Force Battalion established a base in the town. The MNJTF is a loosely coordinated military force against Boko Haram made up of troops from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.
Nigerian authorities have neither publicly acknowledged the Damasak abductions nor disclosed efforts to recover the missing children.
In recent interviews, traditional leaders of Damasak told us they submitted a list of 501 missing children to police and local government officials in April 2015, but that they received no response. A 72-year-old man said 16 members of his family – including children, grandchildren, nephews and cousins – are on that list.
After two years, parents of the missing children are desperate for information, but have received little more than rumors. Some received unconfirmed reports from Damasak refugees returning from Niger 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.
While international attention and concern has focused on the April 2014 Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction, hundreds of other children are also missing in Nigeria’s beleaguered northeast. Authorities should provide regular updates to relatives about efforts to locate and rescue all victims of Boko Haram abductions. Boko Haram leaders should ensure the safe release of children and all other abductees.