At least 223 children, including 10 girls, have recently been cleared of suspected ties with armed groups in Nigeria, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday.
The children were released late Tuesday from the Nigerian army administrative custody and Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison in the northeastern part of Nigeria, said Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
Some of the children had been missing for up to four to five years, with many presumed dead by their families, according to Hawkins.
"The release of these children is a huge step forward and one to be welcomed and celebrated," the UNICEF official said.
The children will now immediately enter a program that will help them reintegrate into their communities, re-engage with families, and take the first steps toward creating a new life and means of livelihood, he said.
"These children deserve to have a normal childhood and now require our full care and support to re-enter the lives that were so brutally interrupted by this devastating conflict," he added.
Since 2016, about 3,559 people associated with armed groups had been released from administrative custody, including 1,743 children, or 1,125 boys and 618 girls, according to official data by the UNICEF.
UNICEF is working closely with Nigerian state authorities to help with reintegration programs for all children formerly associated with non-state armed groups, and others affected by the ongoing conflict in Nigeria's northeast region, said Hawkins.