Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The Nigerian Army on Thursday said it has released 24 children from its administrative custody after being cleared of suspected ties with non-state armed groups.
This brings the number of children released this year to 44. Since 2016, a total of 2,499 people, including 1,627 children, have been cleared of association with non-state armed groups.
The recently released batch were handed over to Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development for rehabilitation at a brief ceremony in Maiduguri, the Army says.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in a statement released in Abuja on Thursday, confirmed that the 24 children were kept at a UNICEF supported transit centre while efforts are underway to reunite them with their families and reintegrate them back to their communities.
UNICEF Nigeria Acting Representative Pernille Ironside thanked the Army for the kind gesture and registered her discontent that the children were taken away from their families and communities, deprived of their childhood, education, healthcare and a chance to grow up in a safe and enabling environment.
She promised that UNICEF will continue to ensure that conflict affected children are reunited with their families, with a renewed hope of fulfilling their dreams and their human rights.
“The children have been handed over to Borno State authorities for rehabilitation and reintegration into the society,” Ironside said.
“We would ensure they access quality medical care and psychosocial support, education, vocational training and informal apprenticeships, and other opportunities to improve their livelihoods.”
“UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
“We have made significant progress in Nigeria particularly the northeast. But our dream is to see that all children suspected of involvement in armed groups activities are transfered 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.”
She appealed to global leaders to collectively commit to do more for the protection, well-being and development of children in Nigeria and elsewhere around the world by ensuring that they are not recruited or used in conflicts.