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Understanding the Nigerian child soldier crisis

WARNING: This article discusses acts of violence and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised. The Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) is fighting militia groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), who recruit child soldiers in Nigeria.

Late last month, a disturbing video was released by militant group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) showing armed children executing two army officers in uniform.

Two militia groups, Boko Haram and ISWAP, have a track record of recruiting young children as soldiers and suicide bombers, with kidnappings taking place across Nigeria. The government has struggled to get a grip on the crisis and even the independently created CJTF has been accused of illegal activity in order to fight back.

Here is a brief explanation as to the situation itself – as well as the response both from local government and internationally.

What is going on with child recruitment?

According to the United Nations, militia groups have abducted school children, sexually enslaved women, and murdered innocent civilians for years in Nigeria.

The abducted children are forced into military training, drugged with cocaine or heroin, and brainwashed into violent Islamic teachings.

Some of the soldiers serve as spies in unsuspecting communities in order to access information. The two terrorist groups remain united in an insurgency against the Nigerian government, which has expanded to neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon countries.

Child recruitment seems to present in all the countries hosting these militia groups.

In Borno State in Nigeria, kidnappings have caused widespread school closures, and the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) was formed to help fight against the Boko Haram.

Even this task force, however, has recruited children in order to provide resistance, though it promises change and a shake-up to its practices.

According to CJTF, it disengaged 12,203 children from its ranks and worked in compliance with UN laws against child soldiers between 2013 and 2022. Before then, children were recruited, fought the Boko Haram, and lives were lost on both sides.

How big is the crisis? According to the United Nations Children’s Fund 2021 report, West and Central Africa have the highest number of child soldiers and sexual violence victims globally.

An increase in regional conflicts has led to more recruitment by both government and armed forces, and an estimated 40% of the world’s child soldiers are from Africa.

What has been the response to the threat?

Last Monday, during the commemoration of Red Hand Day, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in Borno State, Nigeria, announced it had removed 1,840 boys and 363 girls from its ranks.

The CJTF commander, Abati Isa, assured that no child would be recruited or used as soldiers to fight militias. Additionally, he said child protection units had been established in the force to ensure full compliance with UNICEF and other organizations.

The Nigerian government has also had success fighting terrorist groups, despite the challenges. Both Boko Haram and ISWAP soldiers have surrendered over the past few months and, in early February, over 100 militants surrendered – according to the Nigerian army.

With the help of the UN, more security measures have been put in place – mostly in northern Nigeria and West Africa – to protect civilians. Some children have escaped, while others have been rescued by the army and reintegrated back into local communities and families.

Some regions have access to essentials like food supplies, but providing basic commodities to less accessible areas remains a challenge for most aid groups including the UN. These essentials reduce the risk of children joining these militia groups and improve quality of life.

The situation is ongoing and we will need to keep a close eye on events as they happen.


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