Missing Childhoods: Child Kidnapping in Nigeria

Written by Iasmina-Măriuca Stoian

The statistics are disturbing; the reality is devastating. It has been 9 years since the horrendous abduction of the Chibok girls, yet the nightmare continues as children are still being kidnapped, forcibly recruited, killed and injured– their futures torn away,” said Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

Historical background

Situated on the West coast of Africa, Nigeria is a country with a rich history, that was also intertwined with its history as a British colony. Only after 1960, when it gained its independence, and it was declared a republic in 1963, Nigeria faced a difficult period of various dictatorships and political regimes that led to more political instability.

Additionally,  the country has faced issues such as cultural tensions, corruption and inequality. Recently, the numbers on child kidnappings have grown exponentially, particularly in conflict areas. These abductions not only have affected the families and the local communities but also have raised serious issues relating to the current administration and calls for urgent measures to be taken both at the national and international levels.

Despite the continuous efforts to address this issue, child kidnappings continue to remain one of the main challenges of the country, affecting not only the lives of children but also the country’s future. This article will look into the root causes that led to this serious issue, as well as the measures that were taken to combat the kidnappings and possible future measures to be taken by the government and international agents.

Understanding the issue

According to recent articles , more than 280 students were kidnapped from elementary schools in the northern region of the country, and seized by militants. This incident is reported to be bigger than the previous one[jc6] , also known as the Chibok girls abduction case. In 2014, Boko Haram, an Islamist jihadist group based in the northeastern region of Nigeria, abducted 276 girls from their dormitories, many of them still remaining missing to this day. This outrageous incident sparked international debate and led to the creation of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on numerous social media platforms. The reality behind the abductions is even more horrific, leading to other crimes, such as rape, killing, and forced marriages.

Nine years after the Chibok girls incident, Amnesty International and UNICEF highlighted the lack of investigations by local authorities, abandonment of the cases and lack of action from the government. However, schools still are targets of abduction cases that are reported weekly, resulting in approximately 780 abducted children and 61 still held in captivity. [ii]Thus, international organizations are continuing to call for protection and justice for those children, as well as for measures to be taken by the Nigerian authorities.

This issue not only affects the lives of children and families, but it also associated with other issues in the country such as poverty, low rates of employment, political instability, and religious tensions. These challenges will be further discussed in the following paragraphs, explaining them in more detail.

Root causes

Poverty & unemployment

There is a strong link between poverty and unemployment and the issue of kidnapping in Nigeria. Recent rates indicate that almost 46% of Nigerians live in poverty, [iii] and this includes millions of youths who are unemployed and do not benefit from governmental help in any way.

Most of those children did not have access to education, finding their way of living on the streets, where they are most vulnerable. Kidnapping of children is used, besides for political bargains, also for economic gain (kidnapping for ransom), which seems to become more common as the economic gap between rich and poor families grows.

Religious & political factors

Religious differences and the constant tension between the Christian and Islamic citizens are also root causes of the kidnappings. The two religions have been in conflict for generations, thus leading to the abduction of numerous children who were secretly killed in the northern part of the country.

Boko Haram is an extremist terrorist group and their kidnappings are both religious and politically rooted, as declared by their leaders. They mostly target and abduct Christians, as well as people who do not recognize their ideology or political movement.

Methods and tactics of kidnappers

As methods, kidnapping of children can involve the use of offensive gadgets, weapons, specially designed technologies for tracking victims, as well as sensitive information about the targets in order to forcefully take them away from their families and instil fear in their minds. Moreover, kidnapping groups have an impressive organization strategy, in which they are structured on different teams, such as operation teams, guards, tax forces etc.

The reports show that most kidnappers carefully plan their abductions, calculating the costs and benefits of each action. Their preferences on targets vary between different factors that were previously mentioned, such as political, religious, and social backgrounds. This cost for each victim is calculated according to their Kidnap Ransom Value(KRV). In the context of child kidnapping, children from affluent families, with high social status, or from families that have bigger influence may have a higher KRV than others.

Impact on families and society

Child kidnapping can have a devastating effect on families and also on the community, instilling fear and anxiety. Apart from the evident trauma that is inflicted on the past victims, families are also affected. The emotional burden of not knowing the fate or the status of their relative who was abducted is a real trauma, that can cause stress, depression and anxiety in the long-term. Additionally, to the emotional impact, families can also be affected financially, having to face the costs of recovery, treatment or, in the cases of ransom kidnappings, the price they have to pay for having back their children.

On a larger scale, those abductions have also a long-term impact on the local communities. Kidnapped children, especially underaged girls, who can often be victims of other cruel acts, such as slavery, forced marriage and sexual molestation, have a higher impact on society. Thus, from affected families to a local community and later to the whole nation, this issue leads to insecurity, while insecurity leads to political tensions and instability.

Future challenges & solutions

Both present and past governments have tried so far to combat this issue of kidnapping children in Nigeria, through several measures. National and international bodies have collaborated and started several projects, to combat both terrorist threats by the Boko Haram group, and also the criminal activities associated with kidnapping. Other projects were designed to reduce poverty and to increase the quality and accessibility to education, in order to offer children an option and a chance not to end up living on the streets.

More effective solutions in combating this issue are to focus more and pay more attention to the root causes of kidnapping. This could include offering more employment opportunities for youth, investment projects in education, adoption of stricter and more protective laws and regulations and anti-kidnapping measures.


In conclusion, child kidnapping is a serious and complex issue that has different root causes, such as poverty, unemployment, religious and political tensions, and organized criminal group activities. The impact on families and society is enormous, leading to psychological and emotional long-term trauma. Thus, both international and national authorities should take urgent measures and also highlight the importance of international collaboration.


[i] See the articles from UNICEF titled “Devastating Reality: 9 Years After Chibok Abductions, Children in Northeast Nigeria Continue to Suffer the Brutal Consequences of Conflict”, and from CBS News “Witnesses in Nigeria say hundreds of children kidnapped in second mass-abduction in less than a week” for more details.

[ii] See the article from Amnesty International “Nigeria: Nine years after Chibok girls’ abducted, authorities failing to protect children”.

[iii] See Bello (2022) for more consideration.


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