The United Nations Children’s Fund has said 2,013 children in the Northeast have been cleared of alleged association with armed groups since 2016 and handed over by the security forces to the Borno State government.
The organisation also called on community and political leaders to publicly condemn violations of the rights of children.
UNICEF Chief of Borno Field Office, Ms. Phuong T. Nguyen, spoke on Wednesday during a consultative meeting with 27 local government chairmen of the state in Maiduguri.
Organised by the Ministry of Local Government and Emirate Affairs, the meeting was attended by the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajia Zuwaira Gambo as well as officials of the International Organisation for Migration and the United Nations Development Programme.
Nguyen noted that armed conflict in the northeast has been characterized with forced separation, recruitment into armed groups, sexual and gender-based violence and other violations of children’s rights.
“Some have been used as suicide bombers and others as victims of sexual and gender-based violence. These children have been exposed to tremendous psychosocial distress. These girls and boys have hopes, dreams and incredible energy to fulfil their future.
“Even though they have had horrible experiences in the past, their dreams are still valid. Our responsibility as a government and development part
ners is to ensure that these children and women are fully supported to reimagine their dreams and fulfil their hopes and aspirations,’’ she said.
She added with the support of the European Union, 2,013 children in the northeast have been absolved of alleged association with armed groups. According to Nguyen, 2,188 other children have been released by the Civilian Joint Task Force since 2016
Gambo urged the chairmen to be ambassadors of a smoother reintegration for children formerly associated with armed groups.
“There is a misunderstanding of the process and stakeholders need to understand what the process is about. Many of these children were abducted or conscripted against their wishes.
“That is why most of them sneak out of the bush to surrender to the military. We must commend development partners who have supported the state government with the empowerment of these children and community members,’’ she said.