Boko Haram and other insurgent groups recruited over 8,000 girls and boys as child soldiers in 13 years, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Monday.
The agency’s comment came in a statement issued to mark the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, otherwise called the “Red Hand Day”.
“For 13 years, armed conflict in north-east Nigeria has claimed thousands of lives and disrupted livelihoods and access to essential services for children and their families,” UNICEF said.
“Nearly one million homes and 5,000 classrooms have been razed in the protracted armed conflict. Since 2009, more than 8,000 girls and boys have been recruited and used as child soldiers in different roles by armed groups.”
According to the UNICEF Chief of Maiduguri Field Office, Phuong T. Nguyen, such development should end immediately.
“It is unacceptable and unconscionable that girls and boys continue to serve on the frontlines of a conflict they did not start,” Phuong added.
UNICEF while calling on the Nigerian government to sign the Handover Protocol, said the move would end the detention of children previously associated with armed groups. The protocol, it said, would also ensure that children “encountered during military and security operations are transferred from military custody to civilian child protection actors to support their reintegration into society through the provision of family tracing and reunification services and medical, educational, and psychosocial recovery services”.
Phuong, who admitted that children are severely affected by conflicts, however, called for more protection for them.
“Every day of delay in the custody of armed groups is a tragedy with grave implications for the children, families, and Nigerian society as a whole,” the UN chief noted.