The United Nations said on Friday it was thrilled 833 children who were being used by the Nigerian joint task force to fight Boko Haram in the country’s northeast have been released.
“This is an important development for boys and girls of north-east Nigeria whose lives have been deeply affected by violence and insecurity,” said Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
“I also want to highlight that today’s release of children is the result of months of productive work and collaboration between the CJTF and the United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting in Nigeria. We expect more children to be separated from the CJTF soon.”
Nigerian authorities will provide reintegration services to all children released today, with support from UNICEF and partners, Gamba said.
“We have an opportunity to help these children heal and rebuild their lives,” said the Special Representative. “I call on all those who can support this process to work with us to ensure they have access to the best possible services.”
In the agreement, the CJTF committed to ending and preventing the recruitment of children and agreed to release all children from their ranks.
Since September 2017, committees and child protection units dedicated to the implementation of the Action Plan were set up by the CJTF. Command orders banning the recruitment and use of children were also disseminated. The United Nations supported this process by providing training and awareness raising sessions to members of the CJTF and communities. Joint verification missions were also undertaken to identify children to be separated from the CJTF.The CJTF was formed in 2013 to protect communities in north-east Nigeria and to support the country’s security forces in the fight against Boko Haram. Following the group’s listing for recruitment and use of children in the 2016 Annual Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, an Action Plan with the United Nations was developed and signed in September 2017.
While today’s release of children is an important milestone for the protection of children in Nigeria, Ms. Gamba reiterated her concern that children in the country’s North-East continue to be subjected to grave violations committed mainly by Boko Haram. During the first six months of 2018, 37 children, the majority of whom were girls, were used as ‘human bombs’ to harm civilians. During the same period, 349 children were killed or maimed, and another 140 children were abducted.
The Special Representative is also concerned about children detained by the authorities for their or their parents’ alleged association with armed groups. She appeals to the Government to consider these children primarily as victims, with detention used as a last resort and for the shortest period of time. She also calls on the Government to adopt a protocol for the handover of children allegedly associated with armed groups to civilian child protection actors without delay.