UNICEF: Over 3,500 Children Recruited by Armed Groups in Boko Haram Conflict

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  • Secures freedom for 900, including 106 girls from CJTF
  • Conflicts in Nigeria, DRC, Syria, Ethiopia, trigger 10.8m new IDPs

By Bayo Akinloye

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) yesterday revealed that more than 3,500 children were recruited and being used by non-state armed groups in the on-going Boko Haram conflict in Nigeria.

UNICEF also revealed that a total of 894 children, including 106 girls, had been released from the ranks of the CJTF in Maiduguri, Borno State, as part of its commitment to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children for war.

The CJTF is a local militia that helps the Nigerian security forces in the fight against insurgency in north-east Nigeria. It was formed in 2013, with the aim of protecting communities from attack.

In a statement issued yesterday, the UNICEF country representative and the Co-chair of the United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Child Rights Violations (CTFMR), Mohammed Fall, said: “Any commitment for children that is matched with action is a step in the right direction for the protection of children’s rights and must be recognised and encouraged.

“Children of north-east Nigeria have borne the brunt of this conflict. They have been used by armed groups in combatant and non-combatant roles and witnessed death, killing, and violence. This participation in the conflict has had serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being.”

Since September 2017, when the CJTF signed an action plan committing to put measures in place to end and prevent recruitment and use of children, 1,727 children and young people have been released. Since then, there has been no new recruitment of children by the CJTF.

UNICEF noted: “The children and young people released today will benefit from reintegration programmes to help them return to civilian life, seize new opportunities for their own development, and contribute to bringing lasting peace in Nigeria, as productive citizens of their country.”

The United Nations agency noted that without this support, many of the children released from armed groups struggle to fit into civilian life, as most are not educated and have no vocational skills.

“In the ongoing armed conflict in north-east Nigeria, more than 3,500 children were recruited and used by non-state armed groups between 2013 and 2017. Others have been abducted, maimed, raped and killed.

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

UNICEF stated that it had continued to work closely with state authorities and partners to support the implementation of reintegration programmes for all children released from armed groups, as well as others affected by the ongoing conflict, providing an initial assessment of their well-being, psychosocial support, education, vocational training, informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods.

According to the agency, at least 9,800 people formerly associated with armed groups, as well as vulnerable children in communities have accessed such services between 2017 and 2018.

The UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict lists parties to conflict who commit grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict, including recruitment and use of children.

In 2016, the CJTF was listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s Annual Report for Children and Armed Conflict for the recruitment and use of children. 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.

The “action plan is a signed commitment that allows the United Nations to support a party to conflict listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict by laying out concrete and time-bound measures it must take to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, as well as other grave violations,” the statement added.

More IDPs in Nigeria, Syria, Ethiopia than Ever Before

Meanwhile, it has emerged that violent conflicts in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, tensions in Ethiopia and Cameroon have triggered most of the 10.8 million new displacements linked to conflict and violence in the world.

According to a statement by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), made available to THISDAY yesterday, a record 41.3 million people are displaced inside their own countries including Nigeria, because of conflict and violence.

The new report was authored by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) of the NRC.

The number of people living in internal displacement worldwide as of the end of 2018 is the highest it has ever been, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement, launched today at the United Nations in Geneva. This is an increase of more than a million since the end of 2017 and two-thirds more than the global number of refugees.

The record figure is the result of years of cyclical and protracted displacement, and high levels of new displacement between January and December 2018. IDMC recorded 28 million new internal displacements associated with conflict, generalised violence, and disasters in 2018.  

The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, and a rise in intercommunal tensions in Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Nigeria’s Middle Belt region triggered most of the 10.8 million new displacements linked to conflict and violence. Internally displaced people (IDPs) who tried to return to their homes in Iraq, Nigeria, and Syria during the year found their property destroyed, infrastructure damaged and basic services non-existent.

“This year’s report is a sad reminder of the recurrence of displacement, and of the severity and urgency of IDPs’ needs. Many of the same factors that drove people from their homes now prevent them from returning or finding solutions in the places they have settled,” said Alexandra Bilak, IDMC’s director.