Nigeria: Military Frees 25 Children 'Linked With Boko Haram Activities'

Boko Haram.

The military says it has freed and handed over 25 children, who were earlier arrested in connection with Boko Haram activities, to the Borno State government.

The children, comprising 23 males and two females, were arrested during different military raids on Boko Haram hideouts.

The children have been absolved of any hostile involvement in the acts of terror, the military said.

The released children were reportedly taken into a rehabilitation centre managed by both the Borno government and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).

Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Olusegun Adeniyi, said some of the children were arrested alongside their parents, who are still in the custody of the military.

According to Mr Adeniyi, a major-general, the children were 'profiled' and "released to civil authority in line with the United Nations Protocol on the protection of the rights of the children associated with armed conflict".

Mr Adeniyi said the military specifically focused on the protection of the vulnerable groups like children "who are mostly victims rather than perpetrators."

"It is this part of the development that takes into account the development and well-being of innocent children who are coerced into acts of terrorism and violence without moral justification," he said.

"The children are commonly subjected to abuse and most of them witness killing and sexual violence. Regardless of how they are recruited and the roles they play, their participation bear serious implication on their physical and emotional well-being. Therefore, their rehabilitation and reintegration into civil life is an essential part of our programme."

He said the children have been adequately profiled and "their role in Boko Haram were supportive and non-violent".

"Some of them are children whose parents have been arrested for terrorist offences and there is no justification to keep them in detention alongside their parents," he said.

'Deprived childhood'

Meanwhile, the Borno State commissioner for women affairs and social development, Zuwaira Gambo, thanked the military and the UNICEF for the sustained partnership.

She said so far, "the tripartite partnership has assisted 1,627 children, comprising 614 girls and 988 boys, who have been associated with armed conflict".

Mrs Gambo said rehabilitated children "have been fully reintegrated into the society and united with their families, while some continued to receive further rehabilitation and follow-ups".

UNICEF's acting Chief of Maiduguri Field Office, Gillian Walker, who represented the agency's Acting Representative, Pernille Ironside, said the children "are children taken away from their families and communities, deprived of their childhood, education, healthcare, and of the chance to grow up in a safe and enabling environment."

She said UNICEF will continue working to ensure that "all conflict-affected children are reunited with their families, have hope of fulfilling their dreams and their human rights."

"We have made progress, but we would like to see all children suspected of involvement with armed groups, transferred out of military custody to the care of the relevant local authorities as quickly as possible to facilitate their return to their families and communities, spending minimal, if any, time in detention."

She said since 2016, 2,499 people, including 1,627 children "have been cleared of association with non-state armed groups. UNICEF and partners continue to provide age and gender appropriate community-based reintegration support services to all affected children and other vulnerable children in communities that are at risk of recruitment by armed groups."

According to her, the children will access medical and psychosocial support, education, vocational training and informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve their livelihoods.

"The children have been handed over to the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and will be kept at a UNICEF supported Transit Centre whilst efforts to reunite them with their families and reintegrate them back to their communities are underway."

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