Some 894 children have been released from the ranks of the local vigilante group in Nigeria’s northeast, marking another milestone in global campaign to end children’s involvement in armed conflicts, the UN children’s agency UNICEF.
The children included 106 girls who served the government-backed militia as cook or help. The militia had been formed in 2013 as part of a citizens-led initiative at the height of Boko Haram insurgency.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) welcomed the release in a statement on Friday, calling another bold step to end the use of children in armed conflicts.
“Children of north-east Nigeria have borne the brunt of this conflict. They have been used by armed groups in combatant and non-combatant roles and witnessed death, killing and violence. This participation in the conflict has had serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being,” the statement said.
The release was the second of such major steps after the vigilante group signed a pact to remove children from their ranks, it added.
The latest effort brings the total number of children so far freed to 1,727. No new child has been recruited into the group since 2017, according to UNICEF.
The agency said the released children and young people will benefit from reintegration programs that will help them return to civilian life, seize new opportunities for their own development, and contribute to bringing lasting peace in Nigeria.
“Without this support, many of the children released from armed groups struggle to fit into civilian life, as most are not educated and have no vocational skills,” according to the statement by UNICEF.
In the ongoing armed conflict in north-east Nigeria, the agency said, more than 3,500 children were recruited and used by non-state armed groups between 2013 and 2017. Others have been abducted, maimed, raped and killed, it added.
“We cannot give up the fight for the children, as long as children are still affected by the fighting. We will continue until there is no child left in the ranks of all armed groups in Nigeria,” statement quoted Mohamed Fall, representative of UNICEF in Nigeria, as saying.