From Mike Sogbola-
As part of efforts to end the use of children in armed conflict in Northeast Nigeria, 894 children were released from the rank of Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in Borno State.
Of the total released children, 106 were girls with the rest being boys under the age of 18 years.
The CJTF is a local militia that helps the Nigerian security forces in the fight against insurgency in north-east Nigeria. It was formed in 2013, with the aim of protecting communities from attack.
The latest released brings the total number of children to have been released from the CJTF to 1727 since over a year ago when a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the international community, government and the CJTF
Speaking at an occasion to mark the release of the children in Maiduguri on Friday, Mohamed Fall, Representative of UNICEF in Nigeria and the Co-chair of United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Child Rights Violations (CTFMR), said: “Any commitment for children that is matched with action is a step in the right direction for the protection of children’s rights and must be recognised and encouraged.”
He added that: “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.”
He noted that since September 2017, when the CJTF signed an action plan committing to put measures in place to end and prevent recruitment and use of children, 1,727 children and young people have been released. Since then, there has been no new recruitment of children by the CJTF.
He disclosed that the children and young people released will benefit from reintegration programmes to help them return to civilian life, seize new opportunities for their own development, and contribute to bringing lasting peace in Nigeria, as productive citizens of their country.
He said: “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.”
He lamented that in the ongoing armed conflict in north-east Nigeria, 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.
Fall said: “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.”
He promised that UNICEF will continue to work closely with state authorities and partners to support the implementation of reintegration programmes for all children released from armed groups, as well as others affected by the ongoing conflict.
He noted that the gender and age-appropriate community-based reintegration support interventions include an initial assessment of their well-being, psychosocial support, education, vocational training, informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods.
He disclosed that not less than 9,800 people formerly associated with armed groups, as well as vulnerable children in communities, have accessed such services between 2017 and 2018.