3,500 children join Boko Haram

•UNICEF says 13-yr olds recruited by terrorists •Chibok girls mark 5 years in captivity

MORE than 3,500 children recruited by armed groups in the last five years are involved in the on-going Boko Haram war in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced on Friday.

The child-terrorists, according to UNICEF in a statement were aged between 13 and 17 and were recruited between 2013 and 2017.

The disclosure was made on Friday ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Chibok school girls abduction.

“These numbers are only those that have been verified, while the true figures are likely to be higher,” UNICEF said.

UNICEF, while making the disclosure stressed that “widespread abductions of children continue to take place in conflict-torn North East Nigeria,” declaring that “children should never be a target.”

In addition to these children, 432 children were killed and maimed, 180 were abducted, and 43 girls were sexually abused in north-east Nigeria in 2018, UNICEF further said.

Meanwhile, more than 100 of the abducted Chibok girls remain missing, according to the statement.

The anniversary of the abduction, marked on 14 April, is a grim reminder that widespread abductions of children and grave violations of children’s rights continue to take place in the north-east, the UN agency said.

“Children should feel safe at home, in schools and on their playgrounds at all times,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

“We are calling on the parties to the conflict to fulfil their obligations under international law to end violations against children and to stop targeting civilian infrastructure, including schools. This is the only way we can begin to make lasting improvements in the lives of children in this devastated part of Nigeria,” Malick Fall further said.

“Since 2012, non-state armed groups in north-east Nigeria have recruited and used children as combatants and non-combatants, raped and forced girls to marry, and committed other grave violations against children. Some of the girls become pregnant in captivity and give birth without any medical care or attention.

“UNICEF continues to offer its support to the Government of Nigeria in its strong efforts to protect the country’s children. UNICEF works with the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and other partners to support children who have been rescued or escaped from captivity.

“In 2017 and 2018, UNICEF and its partners provided community-based reintegration services to more than 9,800 people formerly associated with armed groups, as well as vulnerable children in communities. These services help to trace children’s families, return them to their communities, and offer psychosocial support, education, vocational training, informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods”, the statement concluded.

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