A local militia group that supports the Nigerian government in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents has released nearly 900 children, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) said Friday.
UNICEF said the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) released 894 children Friday in the northeastern town of Maiduguri “as part of its commitment to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children.”
The CJTF was created in 2013 by a U.S.-led global coalition to help protect communities from attacks by Islamist insurgents in northeast Nigeria. But the militia has also recruited hundreds of children.
“Children in northeast Nigeria have borne the brunt of this conflict,” said UNICEF Nigerian representative Mohamed Fall. “They have been used by armed groups in combatant and non-combatant roles and witnessed death, killing and violence.”
The CJTF signed an “action plan” in 2017 that included a vow to stop recruiting child soldiers and to release the ones who were in its fold. Since then, UNICEF said 1,727 children had been released.
UNICEF said the newly-released children will be enrolled in a program to help them transition to civilian life. To help with reintegration, they will receive educational support and vocational training.
Boko Haram has also recruited thousands of children in a decade-long uprising to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 3,500 children were “recruited and used” by armed opposition groups, UNICEF said. The agency said other children have been killed, raped, maimed and kidnapped.
“We will continue until there is no child left in the ranks of all armed groups in Nigeria,” Fall said.