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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has raised the alarm that over 3,500 children have been recruited and used by non-state armed groups in North-east Nigeria since 2013, and called for stringent efforts for the protection of children’s rights.

UNICEF, in a statement issued Thursday to mark the 5th anniversary of the abduction of over 200 Chibok schoolgirls, said: “More than 3,500 children, most of whom were aged 13 to 17, were recruited by non-state armed groups between 2013 and 2017 and have been used in the ongoing armed conflict in north-east Nigeria.”

The UN children’s agency revealed that “these numbers are only those that have been verified, while the true figures are likely to be higher.”

The statement further disclosed that: “In addition to these children, 432 children were killed and maimed, 180 were abducted, and 43 girls were sexually abused in North-east Nigeria in 2018.

“Meanwhile, more than 100 of the abducted Chibok girls remain missing.”

The statement added that: “The anniversary of the abduction, marked on April 14, is a grim reminder that widespread abductions of children and grave violations of children’s rights continue to take place in the North-east.”

The statement quoting UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Mohamed Malick Fall, as saying: “Children should feel safe at home, in schools and on their playgrounds at all times.”

He said: “We are calling on the parties to the conflict to fulfill their obligations under international law to end violations against children and to stop targeting civilian infrastructure, including schools. This is the only way we can begin to make lasting improvements in the lives of children in this devastated part of Nigeria.”

“Since 2012, non-state armed groups in north-east Nigeria have recruited and used children as combatants and non-combatants, raped and forced girls to marry, and committed other grave violations against children. Some of the girls become pregnant in captivity and give birth without any medical care or attention,” UNICEF explained.

UNICEF said it would continue to offer its support to the Government of Nigeria in its strong efforts to protect the country’s children.

“UNICEF works with the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and other partners to support children who have been rescued or escaped from captivity,” the statement said.

“In 2017 and 2018, UNICEF and its partners provided community-based reintegration services to more than 9,800 people formerly associated with armed groups, as well as vulnerable children in communities. These services help to trace children’s families, return them to their communities, and offer psychosocial support, education, vocational training, informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods,” the statement added.

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