Transforming Data into Action in Nigeria

By Zoe Colgin

September 13, 2015

How A New Survey is Transforming the Nation’s Response to Violence Against Children


On the evening of April 14, 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State. Boko Haram, an Islamic Jihadist terrorist group based in northeast Nigeria, claimed responsibility.


The girls’ abduction galvanized the global community and spawned the “Bring Back Our Girls” social media campaign. The awareness effort evolved into a global movement of support for the girls and their families; those involved have unrelentingly pressed the Nigerian government to find the girls and to take swift action to return them to their homes. More than a year later, the status of most of the girls remains unclear (some have escaped and returned to their families), but most—219—are still missing.


Though the highly publicized abduction of the Chibok girls turned the world’s attention to the fate of those particular young women, it also helped illuminate more broadly the global epidemic of violence against young people. #BringBackOurGirls has become synonymous with violence against children, especially girls, writ large.


While the Chibok girls have yet to be found, Nigeria (or as locals call it, Naija), is under new leadership—and it’s getting serious about protecting its young people.

“Though the highly publicized abduction of the Chibok girls turned the world’s attention to the fate of those particular young women, it also helped illuminate more broadly the global epidemic of violence against young people.”

On September 10, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria launched the “Year of Action to End Violence Against Children in Nigeria.” The new campaign is designed to protect his nation’s youth; it is a direct response to the findings of the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey (VACS). The survey, the first ever of its kind in Nigeria and the first to be conducted anywhere in West Africa, revealed a significant epidemic of violence against Nigeria’s boys and girls, and its young women and men. The levels of violence reflected in the Nigeria VACS mirrored those captured by VACS conducted in other countries. And, they are not dissimilar to the rates of violence against young people in the U.S. (where one-in-five undergraduate students reports experiencing sexual assault). Of the campaign launch, President Buhari said, “This is a historic day. A day when Nigeria stands up and says to our children—we commit to protecting you from violence.”

One in four girls and one in ten boys below the age of 18 report having experienced some form of sexual violence. About one quarter of the young women surveyed said their first sexual encounter was forced, among those whose first sexual intercourse was prior to age 18. Often, a females’ first experience of sexual violence was perpetrated by a romantic partner. The data also suggests that children who witness violence between their parents are more likely to grow up and be perpetrators of violence themselves.


At the invitation of the president, the launch event was attended by more than 1,200 children, parents, representatives from various government ministries and states, development partners, religious leaders, traditional leaders, NGOs, community groups and teachers. It was a celebration of newfound energy to acknowledge, and resolve, the pervasive threats faced by young Nigerians—threats that keep children from developing, learning, staying healthy, thriving and succeeding in their most critical early years. Youth are the future of any nation. With 1 in every 40 people calling Nigeria home, the country needs safe, strong future generations if it is to continue its ascendancy.


The Nigeria VACS was undertaken with support from Together for Girls partners, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, USAID, the U.S. Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator and the European Union. The nationwide household survey interviewed individuals aged 13 to 24, asking them about their experiences of sexual, physical and emotional violence as children. The resulting data provides insight to the magnitude, consequences and circumstances surrounding the various types of violence faced by Nigerian children.


The survey results provide a powerful tool for the Government of Nigeria to address the problem through its Year of Action and to establish stronger foundations for both prevention and response. The intention is that the release of the survey’s results will help rekindle momentum and capacity for action in order to reclaim and protect all of Naija’s youth—including, hopefully, the girls taken from Chibok.


Here, Safe highlights some pertinent findings from the Nigeria VACS. When reflecting on these results, it is important to remember that the findings are consistent with the reports from other countries that have also conducted the VACS. Whether you are in Haiti, Malawi or Cambodia—and indeed in the U.S.— violence is an all-to-common experience.