MAIDUGURI: A ceremony was held in northeast Nigeria on Friday to mark the formal separation of more than 800 children from a civilian militia helping Nigeria's military against Boko Haram Islamists.
A total of 833 youngsters were handed over in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after being identified as having worked in the ranks of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF).
The CJTF, which has been on the frontline of the jihadist violence, last year promised to stop using minors as part of its security operations.
The UN said in its annual report on children and armed conflict that youngsters were helping with intelligence searches, night patrols, crowd control and at checkpoints.
The deputy representative of UNICEF Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, said by agreeing to no longer use under-18s, the CJTF had shown a "commitment to... uphold international humanitarian law and national legislations protecting children's rights".
"This is a significant milestone in ending the recruitment and use of children, but many more children remain in the ranks of other armed groups in either combat or support roles."
Since the agreement was signed in September 2017, 1,469 children -- 1,175 boys and 294 girls -- have been identified as being part of the CJTF within the city of Maiduguri alone.
Boko Haram's insurgency has killed more than 27,000 people and left nearly two million others homeless in northeast Nigeria since it began in 2009.
Children have been particularly hit, with abductions and forced recruitment widespread, as well as attacks on schools teaching the so-called "Western education" the group despises.
At least 3,900 children were killed and 7,300 others injured between January 2013 and December 2016, according to the UN.
Boko Haram has also used young girls as human bombs in devastating attacks against civilians at "soft" targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations as well as checkpoints.
Tens of thousands of children have been orphaned by the conflict and, with schools shut, damaged or destroyed, are often found on the streets, especially in Maiduguri.