By Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri and Kuni Tyessi in Abuja
Eight hundred and thirty-three (833) minors engaged by the young vigilance group, Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in the ongoing counter-insurgency war in the North East were on Friday disengaged.
The disengagement and release of the minors for reintegration into the society is a collaboration between the CJTF and the United Nations Children’s Fund as contained in an agreement they both signed in September 2017 to see that children are not allowed to carry arms in the decade old Boko Haram crisis.
Friday’s occasion was the first formal release of children from the CJTF since September 2017 when the group signed an action plan committing to put measures in place to end and prevent child recruitment following a listing in the annexes of the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict. Its listing in 2016 of parties to conflict who commit grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict included the recruitment and use of children by CJTF.
Speaking at the occasion in Maiduguri, Pernille Ironside, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Nigeria and the Co-chair of United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on grave child rights violations (CTFMR), said the release of these children from CJTF showed commitment to implement the provisions of the Action Plan and to uphold international humanitarian law, human rights laws as well as other regional and national legislations protecting children’s rights.
She said: “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.”
Since the Action Plan was signed, members of the CTFMR had initiated a joint field verification exercise to ascertain the presence and association of children within the command structures and ranks of the Civilian Joint Task Force.
And as of today, a total of 1,469 children (1,175 boys and 294 girls) associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force had been identified within the city of Maiduguri.
UNICEF said it had continued to work closely with state authorities to support the implementation of reintegration programmes for the children released on Friday as well as others affected by the ongoing conflict.
UNICEF added that since 2017, it had supported the social and economic reintegration of more than 8,700 children released from armed groups, helping trace their families, returning them to their communities, and offering them psychosocial support, education, vocational training and informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods.
Following the listing, UNICEF, in its role as Co-chair of the United Nations Country Task Force for the Monitoring and Reporting on grave violations against children, has been working with the group and Nigerian authorities to develop an Action Plan which was signed in September 2017.
Through the Action Plan, the CJTF committed to put in place a number of measures to end and prevent child recruitment and use. Identifying and releasing all children within the group’s ranks and instructing its members not to recruit or use children in the future are examples of such measures.