UN Removes Civilian JTF from List of Armed Groups Using Child Soldier

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By Michael Olugbode

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) involved in the ongoing war on insurgency in the Northeast has been delisted from armed group recruiting and using children in the war on terror.

CJTF was created in Maiduguri at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency as a voluntary reactionary group to support the military and the security agencies in waging war on the terrorist group that had turned the town into killing field.

On the creation of the CJTF, the military and security agencies with their assistance were able to push out insurgents from Maiduguri into an abandoned forest reserved Sambisa Forest.

The activities of the CJTF was able to raise the awareness of the people against the insurgents and resulted in many of the successes recorded in the war in the Northeast.

The CJTF after many allegations of engaging children in their activities were made to enter an agreement with the UNICEF few years back to disengage them.

A statement on Monday by UNICEF said the delisting of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) from the United Nations Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict was one step forward for child protection.

The statement added that: “In his latest report released this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres credited the delisting to a significant reduction in the number of children recruited into the ranks of the CJTF and the armed group’s commitment to the implementation of an Action Plan it signed with the United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) in 2017 to stop the recruitment and use of children.”

The statement explained that the CJTF formed in 2013 with the stated aim of supporting efforts of the Nigerian military to protect communities from Boko Haram attacks, expanded in size and influence in the region, and at the height of its operations in 2016, the group was listed in the annexes of the Secretary- General’s Annual Report for Children and Armed Conflict for the recruitment and use of children.

It said since signing the 2017 Action Plan, however, the CJTF has released more than 2,000 children from its ranks, with many of the children enrolled in school and provided with psychosocial support by UNICEF.

The statement lamented that children have borne the brunt of the protracted conflict in north-east Nigeria, with at least 3,500 young children recruited by parties to the conflict as combatants between 2013 and 2020. Girls and boys have been used as suicide bombers, spies, labourers, cooks, messengers and wives. Girls recruited by armed groups often suffer gender-based violence, including rape.

It added that children used as soldiers are at a great risk of death or disability while undergoing armed training and initiation rites, as well as during combat. They are forced to witness or participate in tortures and killings, triggering lifelong physical and mental health challenges. Similarly, they are denied access to education, nutrition and conducive living conditions, among other grave violations of their rights.

Speaking on the latest action against CJTF, UNICEF Chief of Maiduguri Field Office, Phuong Nguyen said: “This is a welcome development for the children of Nigeria,” adding: “But we must remember that this is the first step in a long journey. I urge the leadership of the CJTF to establish child protection units across its offices to prevent future recruitment and use of children and consistently model its agreement to not use children for any kind of role.”

He said: “Recruiting children into armed groups steals their innocence and the protection they need. We should not forget – deploying children as soldiers imperils peace and perpetuates the cycle of generational violence. I call on other armed groups and parties to the conflict to immediately stop the recruitment of children and safely reintegrate them with their families and communities, where they belong.”