The recent "horrific killings" of dozens of civilians in two villages in western Niger have been condemned in the strongest terms by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Unidentified armed groups killed at least 58 people in Darey-dey and Sinégogar, located in the Tillabery region, according to a statement issued on Wednesday by Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
Six of the victims were children aged 11 to 17.
"We are deeply saddened and outraged that civilians, including children, are among the casualties," Ms. Poirier said.
Media reports state the attacks occurred on Monday when armed men intercepted four vehicles transporting villagers from a weekly market.
"Early in January, in the same region, armed groups carried out coordinated attacks in the villages of Tchamo-Bangou and Zaroumdareye, killing at least 100 people - including 17 children under the age of 16," Ms. Poirier recalled.
The UNICEF official said the surge in violence across the Central Sahel region is having "a devastating impact" on children's survival, education, protection and development.
The Tillabery region in Niger, is located near the country's borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, where more than 95,000 people are displaced. Ms. Poirier said mounting insecurity has exacerbated humanitarian needs and hindered access to affected populations.
"Reaching those in need is increasingly challenging", she stated. "Violence is disrupting livelihoods and access to social services including education and health care. Insecurity is worsening chronic vulnerabilities. Women and children are bearing the brunt of the violence."
Overall, some 3.8 million people in Niger, including two million children, need humanitarian assistance. The situation is further compounded by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms. Poirier said UNICEF continues to work with the Government and its partners to provide children and families with essential protection, health care and education services. However, she stressed that international support and engagement is urgently needed to stop the violence so that the agency can reach those in need.