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United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, has said that over 3,500 children have been recruited and killed Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria’s north-east region.

The agency said this in a statement through its Representative in Nigeria, Mohamed Malick Fall, on Friday, ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Chibok abduction.

“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,” it said.

The agency affirmed that the numbers were only those that have been verified, while the true figures were likely to be higher.

It disclosed that in addition to the children, 432 children were killed and maimed, 180 were abducted, and 43 girls were sexually abused in the region in 2018.

UNICEF noted further that more than 100 of the schoolgirls abducted Chibok community of Borno State were still missing.

It said the anniversary of the abduction, marked on April 14, was a grim reminder that widespread abductions of children and grave violations of children’s rights have continued to take place in the North-east.

“Children should feel safe at home, in schools and on their playgrounds at all times.

“We are calling on the parties to the conflict to fulfil 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,” Fall said.

According to the statement, non-state armed groups in the North-east have recruited and used children as combatants and non-combatants, raped and forced girls to marry, and committed other grave violations against children since 2012.

It added that some of the girls became pregnant in captivity and gave birth without any medical care or attention.

UNICEF, however, promised to continue to offer its support to the Nigerian Government in its strong efforts to protect children across the country.

It also pledged to continuously work 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 UN agency said it provided community-based reintegration services to more than 9,800 people formerly associated with armed groups, as well as vulnerable children in communities in collaboration with partners in 2017 and 2018.

These services, it noted, helped to trace children’s families, return them to their communities, and offer psychosocial support, education, vocational training, informal apprenticeships, and opportunities to improve livelihoods.