Nearly 900 children have been freed by a regional militia in Nigeria that was formed to fight against Boko Haram insurgents, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced Friday.
This group of 894 children includes 106 girls, who have been raped and forced to marry at young ages, sometimes becoming pregnant in captivity and forced to deliver their children with no medical care or attention, UNICEF said.
Some 1,727 children have been freed since 2017, when the United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Child Rights Violations (CTFMR) called for an end to the recruitment of child soldiers. The same group released 833 children in October 2018.
“Children of northeast Nigeria have borne the brunt of this conflict. They have been used by armed groups in combatant and non-combatant roles and witnessed death, killing and violence,” Mohamed Fall, a UNICEF representative in Nigeria and the co-chair of the CTFMR, said in a statement. “This participation in the conflict has had serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being."
But there is still more work to be done. Militias recruited more than 3,500 children to fight against Boko Haram between 2013 and 2017. More have been abducted, maimed, raped, and killed, UNICEF said. Children have been forced to fight in state militias since 2012.
“We cannot give up the fight for the children, as long as children are still affected by the fighting. We will continue until there is no child left in the ranks of all armed groups in Nigeria,” Fall added.
Islamist militant group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a boarding school at gunpoint in April 2014, which sparked the #BringBackOurGirls movement. Some escaped, and small groups of the women have been released. Reports say up to a dozen are dead. HBO premiered a haunting documentary about the events called Stolen Daughters in October 2018. Boko Haram has also terrorized numerous civilians, and even burned school boys alive.
More than 30,000 people have died — and millions more have become displaced — in Nigeria’s war against jihadist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State, the Guardian reports. There is no end in sight to fighting.