The Nigerian military announced the release of 25 children arrested in Boko Haram raids on Thursday.
Years after Nigeria declared Boko Haram “defeated,” authorities released 23 boys and two girls held in custody to ensure that they were not a threat to the public. Boko Haram, an Islamic State affiliate, popularized the use of child suicide bombers and child jihadis, indoctrinating abducted children and children conceived from the rape of abducted young women.
The children freed from military custody were immediately transported to a Borno government and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) rehabilitation center for recovery.
“Operation Lafiya Dole” Theatre Commander Olusegun Adeniyi confirmed that the children have been “absolved” of any hostile involvement in acts of terror despite being arrested, in some cases, alongside their parents during the raids. “[They] are mostly victims, rather than perpetrators,” he said, continuing:
The children are commonly subjected to abuse, and most of them witness killing and sexual violence. Regardless of how they are recruited and the roles they play, their participation bears serious implication on their physical and emotional well-being. Therefore, their rehabilitation and reintegration into civil life is an essential part of our programme.
UNICEF acting Chief of Maiduguri Field Office Gillian Walker said, “children taken away from their families and communities, deprived of their childhood, education, healthcare, and of the chance to grow up in a safe and enabling environment.”
Walker said UNICEF is working with the goal of reuniting “all conflict-affected children… with their families,” so they can “have hope of fulfilling their dreams and their human rights.” But the work is far from over, Walker said, and she believes they can do better:
We have made progress, but we would like to see all children suspected of involvement with armed groups, transferred out of military custody to the care of the relevant local authorities as quickly as possible to facilitate their return to their families and communities, spending minimal, if any, time in detention.
While these children are finally safe, many others remain prisoners to the terrorists of Boko Haram – also known as the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) – and victims of tens of millions of Nigerian child marriages. The influence of the Nigerian Islamic State has also emboldened would-be abductors as far as Borno and Adamawa.
On Friday morning at approximately 12:10 a.m., a group of kidnappers captured six female students at Engravers College in Kaduna, as well as two instructors. The kidnappers are demanding a ransom, which state governor Nasir El-Rufai told reporters is “being negotiated” as they “[try] to protect the victims and secure their release.”
Boko Haram has not shied away from using children as bombs, or attempting to forcibly convert them. But, as it has done for years, the Nigerian government insists that they – and radicalized Islamic members of the Fulani tribe – are no longer a threat.