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Anti-Boko Haram militia releases child fighters

October 12, 2018

Nigerian group CJTF has released over 800 children from its ranks after agreeing to end child recruitment in its fight against Boko Haram. UN officials warn that many other militias still use children as fighters.

A child soldier looking through a trigger guard in Sudan
Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Glinski

Following an agreement with the UN, Nigeria's Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) has released 833 minors from its ranks, the UN children agency UNICEF said on Friday. Some 40 percent of the group are children under 15, and some of them are as young as 11, according to the agency.

The CJTF militia was founded in 2013 as an association of vigilante groups combating the Islamist Boko Haram.

"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," said deputy representative of UNICEF Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, on Friday. "We call on all parties to stop recruiting children and let children be children."

Read more: 'Child soldiers want to continue their education'

The UN has identified some 1,175 boys and 294 girls working or fighting for the CJTF in the area around the city of Maduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state. The total number of children linked with the group could be over 2,200, officials said.

UN experts say that children are helping with intelligence searches, night patrols, crowd control, and at checkpoints.

The faction agreed to an action plan to end child recruitment in September 2017.

Read more: Colombia accuses ELN rebels of recruiting child soldiers

Maduguri is also the birthplace of Boko Haram. The Islamist insurgency has killed over 27,000 people since its beginning in 2009. In response, Nigeria and other governments in the region deployed an international force against the group which largely crushed its military power. The pro-Sharia faction has since focused on launching terror attacks on civilian targets. Boko Haram often abducts children and uses them as suicide bombers.

UNICEF said that thousands more children were released from various armed groups since 2017, with the agency tracing their families and offering them support, education, and vocational training.

dj/ng (Reuters, AP, dpa)