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UNICEF calls for end to ‘recruitment’ of child soldier

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has called for an end to the recruitment and use of children by armed groups in Nigeria.

UNICEF has also requested the release of those in the custody of such groups as well as the extension of support to former child-soldiers in north-east Nigeria.

In a statement, UNICEF Chief of Maiduguri Field Office, Phuong Nguyen, called on the Nigerian authorities to sign the Handover Protocol for children encountered in the course of armed conflict in both the country and the Lake Chad Basin Region, which would end the detention of children formerly associated with armed groups. 

The call was made on the occasion of International Day Against the Use of Child-Soldiers, otherwise known as “Red Hand Day”.

“We call for an immediate end to the recruitment and use of innocent children as soldiers or for any other conflict-related role,” Mr Phuong said.

“It is unacceptable and unconscionable that girls and boys continue to serve on the frontlines of a conflict they did not start.”

The Handover Protocol will 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 services, he said.

According to the UNICEF official, the Child Protection Act, recently signed into law by Governor Babagana Zulum, prohibits violation of children’s rights and prescribes stiff penalties for such infringements. 

He added that nearly 1 million homes and 5,000 classrooms have been destroyed 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.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict also prohibits the forced recruitment or conscription of children under 18 by government forces, and the participation of children under 18 in active hostilities by any party.

Reporting by Dauda Iliya; Editing by Omotola Oguneye and Tony Okerafor