Anti-Boko Haram militia in Nigeria frees 900 children: UN

The 894 children, including 106 girls, had been in the ranks of the government-backed Civilian Joint Task Force.

    CJTF released a similar number of children from its ranks in October last year [File: Reuters TV]
    CJTF released a similar number of children from its ranks in October last year [File: Reuters TV]

    Almost 900 children held by a pro-government force fighting the Boko Haram armed group in northeastern Nigeria have been freed, according to the United Nations.

    The 894 children, including 106 girls, had been in the ranks of the government-backed Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a local group which supports regular soldiers battling Boko Haram.

    At a ceremony in the northeastern town of Maiduguri, they were released on Friday as part of the CJTF's "commitment to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children", the UN children's agency (UNICEF) said.

    "Children of north-east Nigeria have borne the brunt of this conflict," said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF chief in Nigeria.

    "They have been used by armed groups in combatant and non-combatant roles and witnessed death, killing and violence."

    The CJTF is a group formed in 2013 to protect communities from attack, but it has also recruited hundreds of children.

    In 2017, it signed a promise to stop recruiting child soldiers and release the ones they hold.

    'Right direction'

    The children freed on Friday bring the total released since then to 1,727 children, UNICEF said. It was not clear how many children remain in the CJTF's ranks, but the UN welcomed the news on Friday.

    "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," Fall said.

    The freed children will be enrolled in a reintegration programme with education and training to help them return to civilian life.

    Boko Haram's decade-long uprising to establish a strict interpretation of Islamic law in Nigeria's northeast has spilled into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

    The armed group has also recruited thousands of children to fight in their ranks.

    "We will continue until there is no child left in the ranks of all armed groups in Nigeria," Fall said, noting that children "have been abducted, maimed, raped and killed".

    SOURCE: News agencies