Nigeria: Insurgency - Nigerian Army Releases 223 Children Cleared of Ties With Boko Haram

About 223 children, including 10 girls, have been released from Nigerian Army administrative custody and Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison after being cleared of suspected ties with armed groups, the United Nations Children's Fund has said. Descriptiohe United Nations Children's Fund has revealed.

The children were released to Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, UNICEF and Borno State authorities in Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria on Tuesday night.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Borno state Communication Officer UNICEF, Samuel Kaalu, said the children will immediately be enrolled in a reintegration programme to enable them to re-engage with their families.

Mr Kaalu said some of the children are reported to have been missing for up to four and five years, with many presumed dead by their families.

UNICEF Country Representative, Peter Hawkins, described the release of the children as a huge step forward towards ensuring the well-being of children in conflict areas

"These children deserve to have a normal childhood - and now require our full care and support to re-enter the lives that were so brutally interrupted by this devastating conflict," he said.

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The conflict in north-east Nigeria has continued to uproot and devastate the lives of tens of thousands of children, women and men for the past 10 years.

UNICEF said non-state armed groups in north-east Nigeria have recruited and used children as combatants and non-combatants, raped and forced girls to marry, and committed other grave violations against children since 2012. Some of the girls become pregnant in captivity and give birth without any medical care or attention.

The UN organisation also said about 1,743 children associated with armed groups (1,125 boys, 618 girls) have been released from administrative custody since 2017

"Since 2016, 3,559 people associated with armed groups have been released from administrative custody, including 1,743 children (1,125 boys, 618 girls). All have gone through the Bulumkutu Rehabilitation Center in Maiduguri in Borno State and have since been reunited with their families or placed in the most appropriate alternative care, where they are accessing rehabilitation services and reintegration support in their communities."

UNICEF also said it is working closely with the Nigerian state authorities to help with reintegration programmes for all children formerly associated with non-state armed groups, and others affected by the ongoing conflict in north-east Nigeria.

"Age and sex appropriate community-based reintegration interventions include an initial assessment of their well-being, psychosocial support, education, vocational training, informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods. At least 12,264 people formerly associated with armed groups, as well as vulnerable children in communities, have accessed such services since 2017."

The Nigerian military in 2019 handed over 86 Boko Haram child fighters to Borno State Rehabilitation Centre in Bulumkutu, the defence headquarters said.

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