As It Happens

Re-integration begins for nearly 900 Nigerian children freed from anti-Boko Haram force

Last week the Boko Haram resistance group, the Civilian Joint Task Force, released nearly 900 children from its ranks —  and has committed to stop recruiting children. Now the freed child militants face the difficult task of working through their trauma and re-integrating into their communities.

'It gives them nightmares,' says aid worker of kids' time spent with the Civilian Joint Task Force

Children take part in a ceremony at Shehu Palace in Maiduguri on May 10. A total of 894 children, including 106 girls, were released from the ranks of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria the same day, as part of its commitment to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. (Audu Ali Marte/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Transcript

Since 2013 in northeastern Nigeria, a local militia group called the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJFT) has been fighting against Boko Haram insurgents. They have a lot of support in local communities — but like Boko Haram, they've also been recruiting and using children.

Last week the group released nearly 900 children from their ranks. They've also committed to stop recruiting children.

Mubarak Yusuf, a deputy child protection manager with the organization Search For Common Ground, works with children released from the CJFT to help them reintegrate into society.

Here is part of his conversation with  As it Happens guest host Gillian Finlay.

What is the Civilian Joint Task Force?

The Civilian Joint Task Force is a body of community persons that came together with the objective of protecting the community against attacks from the Boko Haram insurgency, in northeast Nigeria — specifically [the state of] Borno, to be precise.

Certainly, we know about Boko Haram and we've done stories about Boko Haram over the years, about how they have used children in particular — abducted children, kidnapped children, pressed them into military activities. How is this group's use of children different than that?

So I think the difference is that for the Civilian Joint Task Force, they have been seen as part of the community. So almost everyone in the locality of Maiduguri at some point was a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force in its early days.

Communities celebrate individuals associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force as heroes, irrespective of their age. And then they have been credited for bringing back some stability and safety to Maiduguri.

A member of the Civilian Joint Task Force poses at the Bakassi Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) Camp on July 6, 2017 in Maiduguri. (Stefan Heunis/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

So the children who are participating, they have volunteered to do this work — they have not been pressed into service?

Yes, they're all volunteers. So at some point men, women, youth, children — they all got into the movement voluntarily, in a bid to protect the community against the Boko Haram insurgency. 

And how does the task force use children? What do they do with them?

So basically, in terms of the activities for the children, they mainly use them for intelligence-related photos, and then in some cases, search operations, nights patrols. Then sometimes, also, they use them for crowd controls. And then you also see the cases where they conduct arrests of suspected Boko Haram, while also some of them, they also participated in the combat during the initial emergence of the CJTF.

Children participate in the separation ceremony at Shehu Palace in Maiduguri last Friday, upon being released from the Civilian Joint Task Force. (Audu Ali Marte/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

So there were children in combat that were were involved in the fighting?

Yeah. 

So a decision was then made by the task force at some point that they would release these children, that they would no longer use them in their activities. Why did that happen?

Following the lifting of the CJTF as an armed group that uses children for its activities, UNICEF — in its role as a co-chair of the United Nation Country Task Force for the Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) on grave violations against children — has been working with the group and Nigerian authorities to then develop an action plan, which was signed in September 2017.

So through the action plan, the CJTF commit[ted] to put in place a number of measures to end and prevent child use in their activities — identifying and releasing all children within the groups on the ground, and instructing their members not to recruit or use children in the future.

A sign near a checkpoint of a vigilante group reads Civilian J.T.F., or Civilian Joint Task Force in Maiduguri. (Aminu Abubakar/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

What kinds of stories do they tell you about their experiences?

So because this a child-protection project, a number of feedback or experiences the children share during some of these sessions is somewhat confidential.

One of the sessions we do to really help us set these children in place in the community is the trauma healing session. And that is where we will get them to share most some of this stories and feedback with us.

I think some stories that were quite impactful were stories where children shared their experiences where they partake in the killings of some of these Boko Haram [fighters].

What did the children tell you about doing that and how they felt about it?

Yes. So when they were doing that at that time, they felt it's part of life. They felt they're fine doing that, and it's okay doing that.

But then the effect on that, on the children, is that in the end, when they go back home and they sleep at night, it gives them nightmares.

They start thinking or feeling some of these things will haunt them, and they get very scared. But then, [with] the trauma awareness, they now understand where some of those effects are coming from psychologically.


Interview produced by Allie Jaynes. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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