About 894 members of the Civilian-Joint Task Force who are below 18 years have been disengaged from the group in line with the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1261, Borno State officials have said.
The resolution, adopted in August 1999, by members of the UN Security Council, forbids the use of children as participants in armed conflict.
With the emergence of C-JTF in 2013 as a youth vigilante force helping soldiers to sniff out Boko Haram, many children, who were below the age of 18 volunteered and played several key roles in the war against Boko Haram.
More than a thousand of these youth, including children, were killed in the war.
In September 2017, following a global outcry over the involvement of about 3,700 underage children as members of C-JTF, leaders of the group signed a commitment to end the recruitment of children and also vowed to commence the release of those already recruited.
In the first phase of the separation, over 800 children gave up their arms.
This group of ex-C-JTF fighters was helped by UNICEF and an NGO, the Search for Common Ground (SFCG) to get back to school or learn trades.
On Friday, at a grand ceremony held in front of the palace of the Shehu of Borno, the C-JTF leadership handed over yet another set of 894 children, who were once their members, in compliance with the September 2017 commitment to action plan.
The Attorney General of Borno, Kaka-Shehu Lawan, whose office coordinates the affairs of the C-JTF said the state government is committed to respecting the UNSCR 1261.
“A total of 894 children, including 106 girls, were today released from the ranks of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), as part of its commitment to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children,” Mr Lawan said.
UNICEF officials at the event also confirmed the figure.
The event was also attended by the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, George Steiner, and the representative of UNICEF in Nigeria, Mohamed Fall.
Mr Fall, who is also the co-chair of United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Child Rights Violations (CTFMR), said the children of North-east Nigeria have borne the brunt of the conflict, adding that “the worst that the world will do is to watch them fight in the war.”
“They have been used by armed groups in combatant and non-combatant roles and witnessed death, killing, and violence. This participation in the conflict has had serious implications for their physical and emotional well-being.”
He said the children will be given all support that will enable them fit seamlessly into society.
“Without this support, many of the children released from armed groups struggle to fit into civilian life, as most are not educated and have no vocational skills,” Mr Fall said.
The official congratulated the C-JTF for taking “a very courageous and bold step in showing their commitment to the action plan signed in September 2017.”
He said his country appreciates the work of UNICEF and will continue to give support in the area of child wellbeing and protection.
Leader of the C-JTF, Abdulganiyu Abdulkareem, thanked the UNICEF, the Search for Common Ground and the Borno State government for giving the seperated children a new lease of life.
He, however, solicited global support for families of their members, “about 1000 of them” who died in the cause of the ongoing insurgency.
The Nigeria military was also at the event. They commended the C-JTF and UNICEF for coming up with the initiative.
The Shehu of Borno, Garbai Alamin Elkanemi, who is also the grand patron of the C-JTF was represented by the ‘Waziri’.
Excited Ex-CJTF member
Meanwhile, Maryam Ali, one of a female underage members of the CJTF, said she did not regret the role she played as an operative of the youth vigilante.
“My brothers are also members of the C-JTF and I wanted to help make our community safe,” she said.
Uneducated, Maryam, aged 17 has been trained by the SFCG on how to prepare local fragrance, which she said “makes her happy.”
“But now I am happy that the UNICEF and SFCG have trained us in knowing how to do small scale businesses like making local fragrance.”
Understanding UN Resolution 1261
In 1999, 15 members of the UN Security Council sat in New York and adopted the RSC1261, which forbids the engagement of children under the age of 18 from taking part in armed conflict.
Prior to the adoption of the resolution, the Security Council was informed that 300,000 children, from the age of seven or eight were serving as soldiers, guerrillas or supporting roles in armed conflicts in more than 30 countries around the world.
It was also told that in wars within the past decade, armed conflicts had killed two million children.
All the 15 members of the UNSC, that sat at the meeting voted in favour of the Resolution 1261.