A global rights group, Amnesty International, has condemned the treatment of children arrested and suspected of engaging in terrorism.

AI said the children are usually locked up alongside adult terrorists who sexually abuse them while military officials look the other way.

The rights group said this in its latest report titled, ‘We dried our tears: Addressing the toll on children of Northeast Nigeria’s conflict’. 

After finishing class in primary school, a girl (in blue uniform) plays with other children who are not in school, before going home, Kaleri, Borno State, Nigeria, 2019. The area, located near Jere, has been attacked several times by Boko Haram

The report examines how the military’s widespread unlawful detention and torture have compounded the suffering of children from Borno and Adamawa states who faced war crimes and crimes against humanity at the hands of Boko Haram.

AI said Boko Haram had repeatedly attacked schools and abducted large numbers of children as soldiers or ‘wives,’ among other atrocities but the treatment of some of the escapee children by the military had been appalling.

The report read in part, “The Nigerian military’s treatment of those who escape such brutality has also been appalling. From mass, unlawful detention in inhumane conditions, to meting out beatings and torture and allowing sexual abuse by adult inmates – it defies belief that children anywhere would be so grievously harmed by the very authorities charged with their protection.”

The rights group said Nigeria must urgently address its failure to protect and provide education to an entire generation of children in the North-East, a region devastated by years of Boko Haram atrocities and gross violations by the military.

The report adds, “Most such detentions are unlawful; children are never charged or prosecuted for any crime and are denied the rights to access a lawyer, appear before a judge, or communicate with their families. The widespread unlawful detentions may amount to a crime against humanity.

“Almost everyone fleeing Boko Haram territory, including children, is screened by the military and Civilian Joint Task Force – a process that, for many, involves torture until the person ‘confesses’ to affiliation with Boko Haram.

“Alleged Boko Haram members and supporters are transferred and held, often for months or years, in squalid conditions in detention centres including Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri and the Kainji military base in Niger State.

“Every former detainee interviewed offered consistent, highly specific descriptions of the conditions: extreme overcrowding; a lack of ventilation amid stifling heat; parasites everywhere; and urine and faeces on the floor, because of the lack of toilets.

“Although there have been some improvements in recent years, many former detainees, including children, also faced grossly inadequate access to water, food, and health care.”

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