By Rafiu Ajakaye
LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – At least 833 minors have been released from the ranks of a local vigilante movement involved in the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northeast, representing a huge step towards ending the use of child soldiers in armed conflicts.
Baba Shehu, a leader of the government-backed Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), told Anadolu Agency Friday morning that the decommissioning of the children followed a recent commitment to remove all underage people from their ranks.
“These children don't really carry arms but they help either as spies to spot and neutralize Boko Haram terrorists or serve for errands,” said Shehu. “The exercise [of removing them from the vigilante force] is an ongoing thing.”
UNICEF praised the initiative in a statement on Friday, calling it the first formal step in the vigilante group's commitment to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children.
In September 2017, the group signed an action plan aiming to put measures in place to end and prevent child recruitment.
“The release of these children from CJTF shows commitment to implement the provisions of the Action Plan and to uphold international humanitarian law, human rights laws as well as other regional and national legislations, protecting children’s rights,” the statement quoted Pernille Ironside, deputy representative of UNICEF Nigeria and the co-chair of the UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on grave child rights violations (CTFMR), as saying.
“This is a significant milestone in ending the recruitment and use of children, but many more children remain in the ranks of other armed groups in either combat or support roles. We call on all parties to stop recruiting children and let children be children.”
UNICEF said a total of 1,469 children (1,175 boys and 294 girls) associated with the CJTF have been identified within the city of Maiduguri as at Friday.
The UN action plan had also criticized Boko Haram for using children as human bombs penetrating civilian and military gatherings.