The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says 223 children, including 10 girls, have been cleared of suspected ties with armed groups.
UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Mr Peter Hawkins, made the disclosure in a statement signed by its Bauchi Field Office, Communication Officer, Mr Samuel Kaalu, on Wednesday.
Hawkins said that the children were released late in the night of March 3 from Nigerian Army administrative custody and Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison.
According to him, some of the children have been missing for up to four to five years, with many presumed dead by their families.
“They were released to the safe custody of Borno Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, UNICEF and Borno authorities in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria.
“The release of these children is a huge step forward and one to be welcomed and celebrated.
“The children will now immediately enter a programme that will help them reintegrate into their communities, re-engage with families, and take the first steps toward creating a new life and means of livelihood.
“These children deserve to have a normal childhood and now require our full care and support to re-enter the lives that were so brutally interrupted by this devastating conflict,” he said.
The UNICEF representative said that since 2016, about 3,559 people associated with armed groups had been released from administrative custody, including 1,743 children comprising 1,125 boys and 618 girls.
Hawkins noted that they had gone through the Bulumkutu Rehabilitation Centre in Maiduguri, and had since been reunited with their families.
“Some have been placed in the most appropriate alternative care, where they were accessing rehabilitation services and reintegration support in their communities.
“UNICEF is working closely with Nigerian state authorities to help with reintegration programmes for all children formerly associated with Non-State Armed Groups (NSAG), and others affected by the ongoing conflict in northeast Nigeria.
“Age and sex appropriate community-based reintegration interventions include an initial assessment of their well-being, psycho-social support, education, vocational training, informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods.
“At least 12,264 people formerly associated with armed groups as well as vulnerable children in communities have accessed such services since 2017, ” Hawkins said.