SWITZERLAND, SEPTEMBER 10 – Global Human Rights watch dog, the Human Rights Watch(HRW) has accused the Nigerian military of detaining and violating the rights of thousands of children under the guise of fighting Boko Haram.
The NGO’s latest report seen by Today’s Echo says the Nigerian military continues to detain thousands of children in “inhuman conditions.” Allegedly, the minors collaborated with Boko Haram.
” The Nigerian military has arbitrarily detained thousands of children in degrading and inhuman conditions for suspected involvement with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram. Many children are held without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded military barracks, with no contact with the outside world,” the HRW alleges the latest report on the Boko Haram crisis.
The report called “‘They Didn’t Know if I Was Alive or Dead”: Military Detention of Children for Suspected Boko Haram Involvement in Northeast Nigeria,” says many children are “held without charge for months or years in overcrowded military barracks.”
“Between January 2013 and March 2019, Nigerian armed forces detained over 3,600 children, including 1,617 girls, for suspected involvement with non-state armed groups, according to the UN. Many are detained at Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, the main military detention facility in Borno State.”
The HRW says in June 2019, it interviewed in Maiduguri 32 children and youth who had been detained as children at Giwa barracks for alleged involvement with Boko Haram. None of the children said they were taken before a judge or appeared in court, as required by law, and only one saw someone who he thought may have been a lawyer. None were aware of any charges against them. One was detained when he was only 5 years old.
In 2016, amid mounting pressure owing to reports of abuses against children in Nigerian detention center, the United Nations negotiated the release of more than a thousand children detained for allegedly collaborating with the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, including some as young as five years old.
Now Human Rights Watch (HRW) says there are still many children in Giwa — 32 minors interviewed there by HRW in June described beatings, overwhelming heat and overcrowded cells, according to the report. “Children are being detained in horrific conditions for years, with little or no evidence of involvement with Boko Haram, and without even being taken to court,” HRW’s children’s rights advocacy director, Jo Becker, said.
Although international analysts acknowledged a reduction in the number of detained children, the UN says there are still many. According to the UN, 418 children were detained in the Giwa Baracks, Maiduguri in 2018, against 1,900 the year before.
The HR is now calling on the Nigerian government to sign and put into effect a United Nations handover protocol to ensure the swift transfer of children apprehended by the military to child protection authorities for rehabilitation, family reunification, and community reintegration. Other countries in the region, including Chad, Mali, and Niger, have already signed such protocols.
No end to suffering after release
Many of the children said they were arrested after fleeing Boko Haram attacks on their village or while seeking refuge at camps for internally displaced people. One said he was arrested and detained for more than two years for allegedly selling yams to Boko Haram members. Several of the detained girls had been abducted by Boko Haram or forced to marry Boko Haram fighters. Detainees also accuse Nigerian soldiers of sexually abusing girls.
The children do not go to school, being allowed only to pray, watch television and profit from lessons given by some of their older peers. Their troubles are not over when they are finally released, even without a charge, as has happened to around 2,200 minors since 2013. Many are rejected by their communities and suffer social stigma for their alleged involvement with Boko Haram.