The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that over 8,000 Nigerian boys and girls have been recruited as child soldiers since 2009.
Phuong Nguyen, UNICEF chief field officer in Borno, revealed this on Monday, 14 February, in a statement issued to mark the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as Red Hand Day, The Cable reports.
Nguyen said it is ‘unacceptable and unconscionable’ for children to be recruited for conflict-related reasons by armed groups.
He called on the Nigerian government to ensure that children formerly recruited as soldiers should be supported for proper integration into society.
We call for an immediate end to the recruitment and use of innocent children as soldiers or any other conflict-related role.
“It is unacceptable and unconscionable that girls and boys continue to serve on the frontlines of a conflict they did not start,” the statement reads.
“For thirteen 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. 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.
“UNICEF called on the Nigerian authorities to sign the Handover Protocol for children encountered in the course of armed conflict in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region, which would end the detention of children formerly associated with armed groups.
“The handover protocol would ensure 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. Support would also life skills support, skills training, and links to decent work.
“Ratified by the government of Nigeria in 2012, the optional protocol places obligations on non-state armed groups, not to, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of eighteen.
“We must do more to ensure that Nigeria’s children do not suffer the worst impacts of conflict.
“We owe girls and boys a chance to leave the horrors of conflict behind. 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.”