GENEVA - The U.N. Children’s Fund reports a local militia fighting Boko Haram Islamists in northeast Nigeria has released 833 child soldiers. UNICEF says it hopes the move will be followed by further releases.
The local militia that released the children is one of several vigilante groups that formed an alliance in 2013 to fight Boko Haram militants. UNICEF says last year, the alliance known as the Civilian Joint Task Force CJTF), signed an agreement to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children.
UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac says the 833 child soldiers, some as young as 11, were freed in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria. He says it marks the first formal release of children since the Action plan by the CJTF was signed in September 2017.
“So, this is a significant milestone in ending the recruitment and use of children, but, many more children remain in the ranks of other armed groups in either combat or support roles. We call on all parties to stop recruiting children and let children be children,” he said.
Boulierac noted the children who have been freed are among nearly 1,500 boys and girls recruited by the vigilante militias. But, he said UNICEF believes more than 2,000 more children who have not yet been identified are enlisted by other armed groups to support their fight against Boko Haram.
The Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009 to topple the Nigerian government and establish an Islamist state. Over the years, the militant Islamists have killed and kidnapped thousands of people and forced millions to flee their homes and become internally displaced or refugees.
Since 2017, UNICEF reports it has helped reintegrate into their communities more than 8,700 children released from armed groups. It says it provides the children with psychosocial support, education and vocational training so they can earn a living and become members of society.