MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – The Nigerian army released 25 children on Thursday after clearing them of suspected ties with armed Islamist groups in the country’s restive northeast region, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.
Nigeria has fought an insurgency by militant Islamist group Boko Haram in northeastern states that has killed more than 30,000 people over the past decade. It is not clear how many children in total have been drawn into armed groups, including Boko Haram, or how they have been recruited.
UNICEF said 23 boys and two girls were released by the army and handed to authorities in Borno, the state worst affected by the insurgency.
“These are children taken away from their families and communities, deprived of their childhood, education, health-care, and of the chance to grow up in a safe and enabling environment,” said UNICEF Nigeria Acting Representative Pernille Ironside.
The children would be given access to medical support, education and vocational training, the agency said.
The release comes against the backdrop of widely reported cases of young people being held captive in Nigeria in differing circumstances.
In May, a regional militia allied with government forces freed almost 900 children it had used in the war against Islamist insurgents.
Earlier this week police in Lagos, the commercial capital, said they had freed 19 women and girls who had mostly been abducted and made pregnant by captors planning to sell their babies.
Last week, around 400 boys and men – some as young as 5 and many in chains and scarred from beatings – were rescued from a building in the northern city of Kaduna that purported to be an Islamic school.
Ironside said UNICEF was working to ensure that all children affected by the conflict were reunited with their families.
A total of 2,499 people, including 1,627 children have been cleared of association with non-state armed groups in Nigeria since 2016, UNICEF said.
(Reporting by Maiduguri Newsroom; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Frances Kerry)