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Army Releases 25 Children Cleared of Association With Non-State Armed Groups in Borno

By Sadiq Abubakar, The Nigerian Voice, Maiduguri

The Nigerian Army has released 25 children cleared of association with the non- state armed groups in Borno state to the Borno state government for onward handing over to the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) for rehabilitation and reintegration into the society.

Major General Olusegun Adeniyi , the Theater Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Theater Command Headquarters Maiduguri while handing over the children Thursday at the Offers Mess Maimalari Cantonment Maiduguri said that it was a known fact that children were exposed to rape, all kinds of sexual abuse, child labour and hard drugs in the hand of the boko haram insurgents.

He added that as such, the children were properly examined, treated, rehabilitated and found to be free from the Boko Haram Terrorists while urging state government and UNICEF to rehabilitate them properly before reintegrating them back into the society and reuniting them with their loved ones.

The Theater Commander noted that the children are between the ages of 8-15 years at the time of their rescue and explained that it is mandatory for the Nigerian Army to abide by the human rights law and protect the lives of the children which informed the rescue, deradicalizatiion. and rehabilitation of the children who have been abducted from their communities and separated from their parents while others were abducted along with their parents, praying that one day the Boko Haram Insurgency will be no more and all the captives will be reached.

Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo, the Honourable Commissioner, Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development represented Borno State Government at handing over ceremony. She commended the relentless efforts of the UNICEF; its untiring drive and continuous support to the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development (MWASD) .

She said that it has largely contributed to strengthening the capacity to receive and provide the relevant comprehensive care and protection of women and children as well as prepare them to return to their families, relatives and communities.

"We sincerely appreciate the Military and the State Government for organizing this all-important exercise as we strive to give back our children their much-needed childhood that they have been deprived of.

"Children (boys and girls) are especially vulnerable in armed conflicts. Despite the protection provided by law, they continue to be recruited by armed groups; a situation that has led to outright separation from their families, driven from their homes, killed, maimed, sexually abused or exploited in many other ways," Zuwaira said.

According to her, to date, with the help of UNICEF and other partners, the State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development through it's Bulunkutu Transit Centre have provided relevant Child Protection and Emergency services to children including Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, Basic Education, Medical, Food, Shelter and Clothing for 1,602 children (614 girls, 988 boys).

"All of these children have been fully reintegrated to their families and communities and some continue to receive reintegration follow ups and access to socio economic reintegration programme.

"The release and reintegration of children is very crucial for their growth and proper development into very useful adults that will contribute to the development of their community, the society, Nigeria and the world at large.

"We the adults and those in authority need to do more for children and make this world a better place for them. Although challenged by so many factors including but not limited to insufficient livelihood opportunities.

"We still have a duty of care to these children and today we recommit our pledge to work together and find better ways to address the challenges and achieve our expected results for children. To our children, whom we recognised not only as Allah’s special gift to us, but our assets, I say to you, that there is hope.

" As you are going back to your families and communities, we will support you to reintegrate. We will not stop at that but also go a step further in our wholesome reintegration programme to give you access to education and other services that will help you to grow and develop into active individuals and responsible citizens of this great country.

"I urge you to make good use of these opportunities and learn all you can to be able to smoothen the rough edges around you and turn it into a path to achieving your dream in life and ultimately contribute in your little way to the task of making Nigeria, especially North East Nigeria a better place not just for children alone but for every member of the society.

To whom much is given much is expected. It is on this note that I re-affirm the unflinching support of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development to this noble initiative of UNICEF, the Government and other development partners because, as you will all agree, “when you empower the youth and Children, you also empower the nation", Zuwaira added.

Ms Gilian Walker, the UNICEF Borno. Chief Field Office said that all the 371 children (192 boys, 79 girls) released in 2018 have already accessed reintegration services aimed at giving them not only skills for hope with life but also hope and resiliencies for a better future.

" Today marks the beginning of hope for these 25 children. Hope to be reunited with their families. Hope to follow their dreams and hope to be children again. These children are first and foremost victims of the ongoing conflict and their release is a major step on their long road to recovery.

She also said the children will be provided with care and support at the Transit Center established with the support of UNICEF, IOM and other humanitarian partners. This center has provided temporary shelter, protection., psychological support and other life saving services to 2,474 persons including 1,600 children released from administrative custody since it opened its doors in September 2017.

Walker further noted that despite the UNICEF progress in successfully reintegrating children cleared of association with non state armed groups, a lot still needs to be done as there are still children in the ranks and file of armed groups who belong to their families while calling on all parties to the conflict to stop recruiting and using children in any role and pointed out that UNICEF will not stop until there are no children being used in the conflict.

The UNICEF Chief Field Office Borno appreciated the partnership with the Nigerian Army and State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social. Development that have seen 1627 children cleared of association with armed groups and reintegrated back into to society .

"We have achieved this progress through the mutual respect and observance to the international Humanitarian Law and in line with the hand over protocol of children released from administrative detention to ensure that all children who have been recruited, used and cleared of association can start fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.

" This year we celebrate 30 years of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as a legally binding international agreement setting out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of their religion or abilities. This anniversary should serve as a good reminder that the future of this great Nigeria lies in the hands of the children ", Walker said.