Nigerian child soldiers freed

A total of 894 child soldiers from northeastern Nigeria were freed by the Civilian Joint Task Force, a group that fights Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, on May 10 as part of the group’s commitment to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Nigeria.

Boko Haram refers to themselves as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” They are a militant group that promotes a version of Islam forbidding participation in any political or social activity associated with Western culture.

Boko Haram has been active since 2002 when they first attacked multiple police stations in Yobe. The group is responsible for a wave of bombings and has turned their campaign toward violence against children and schools since 2012, according to the UN.

“Children of northeast Nigeria have borne the brunt of this conflict,” UNICEF Chief Mohammed Fall told BBC. “They have been used by armed groups in combatant and non-combatant roles and witnessed death, killing and violence.”  

Children have been used by both sides in the conflict between Boko Haram and CJTF. According to UNICEF, more than 3,500 children were recruited and used by non-state armed groups while hundreds more were abducted, maimed, raped or killed between 2013 and 2017.  

CJTF was formed in 2013 and originally recruited children as soldiers. The group signed an action plan in 2017 to end the recruitment of these children. So far, CTFJ has released a total of  1,727 children, according to Al Jazeera.

The 894 children released on Friday during a ceremony in the northeastern side of Maiduguri was part of CJTF commitment to this action plan, Al Jazeera said.  The group included 106 girls from Maiduguri, according to UNICEF.

As most of these children were recruited years prior and have been fighting as soldiers, they have not been educated and have no vocational skills, making it difficult for them to fit in to civilian life.  

The released children will enter a reintegration program supported by UNICEF. The program is focused on educating and training the children in order to help them gain skills that will assist in their return to civilian life.

UNICEF claims the reintegration program will help former child soldiers “seize new opportunities for their own development and contribute to bringing lasting peace in Nigeria as productive citizens of their country.”

“We cannot give up the fight for the children as long as children are still affected by the fighting,” Fall said. “We will continue until there is no child left in the ranks of all armed groups in Nigeria.”