Nigerian militias battling Daesh-linked Boko Haram terrorist group has freed some 900 child recruits from its ranks, United Nations children’s agency UNICEF has announced.
The Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) freed 894 children, who were aged between 13 and 19 and had been recruited back in 2017, at a ceremony in the northeastern town of Maiduguri on Friday, news agencies reported.
“[This] is a step in the right direction for the protection of children’s rights and must be recognized and encouraged,” said UNICEF’s director of its Nigeria branch, Mohamed Fall, following the release ceremony.
“Children of northeast 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,” he added.
UNICEF Nigeria’s Kusali Nellie Kubwalo said children who had been separated from their families will be reunited from Saturday, adding that they will also be offered support to get education and training.
“There’s an assessment to see what support can be given … whether they want to go back to school, so we can link them to the right school,” she noted.
Over 1,700 children have so far been released by the militia group, which works closely with the Nigerian military to battle Boko Haram.
Last October, 833 children were released by the CJTF, whose commitment and efforts received praise when it signed the agreement in September 2017, after a year of negotiations with the UN.
The CJTF was established mainly from vigilante groups in response to Boko Haram’s terror campaign.
The militant group has been credited with protecting communities in areas poorly guarded by the Nigerian armed forces. However, it has also been accused of rape and human rights violations by such bodies as Human Rights Watch.
The UN’s 2018 annual report on children and armed conflict found that 1,092 children, most of them boys (738), were recruited and used by armed groups in 2017.
It singled out Boko Haram, which has been censured for its use of kids as suicide bombers, as the top perpetrator.
According to UNICEF, non-state armed groups involved in the decade-long conflict against Boko Haram recruited more than 3,500 children between 2013 and 2017 in northeastern Nigeria.
The UN warned in January about growing violence by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria’s northeast. It said more than 30,000 people — mostly women and children — had fled their homes in the conflict-ridden area over the past weeks.
Boko Haram’s nine-year insurgency is estimated to have killed more than 27,000 people and forced 1.8 million others to flee their homes.
In 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group.