The Nigeria Military has reacted to the allegations by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that says it is detaining thousands of children for suspected links to Boko Haram.
The United States-based group in their report urged the government to release children who had been held for years in what they described as “horrific conditions”.
However, the military described the report as “false”, saying they were treated as “victims of war and not as suspects”.
While the army does detain women and children they say have been indoctrinated by Boko Haram, the children are “adequately fed, profiled and de-radicalised before their release”.
The report released on Tuesday, claimed that the military had been arresting and detaining children as young as five “with little or no evidence”. Most are then reportedly transferred to Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri.
The HRW said the children it interviewed who spent time in the camp described “squalid, severely overcrowded conditions”. None of those 32 children said they had been taken before a court or a judge, and none knew what they had been charged with. None, moreover, said they had had contact with family outside their detention centre.
Detainees were threatened or even beaten by soldiers, some children said, while soldiers reportedly made advances to female soldiers or took them out of their cells for extended periods. One girl in the report says females in her cell became pregnant during their imprisonment.
HRW added in the report that it did not know the total number currently in detention. According to UN figures cited in the report, the military took more than 3,600 children between January 2013 and March 2019.
The report praises the release of at least 2,200 children so far, and acknowledges the “important steps” the government has taken to protect children’s rights.
The HRW called on the authorities to immediately release all the detained minors and to implement a UN protocol ensuring the rapid handover of detained children to protection services, so they can return to their families.
The Defence Headquarters insisted that “no children are kept and tortured in any detention facility”.
The Defence Headquarters in a statement by Acting Director, Defence Information Col. Onyema Nwachukwu said while troops were intensifying effort to ensure lasting peace in the North East (NE), Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report accusing them of arbitrarily detaining children “This report is not only false but capable of undermining the joint efforts of the Armed Forces and other security agencies to restore peace in the northeast.”
The DHQ added that “no children are kept and tortured in any detention facility. The children caught in the act of terrorism are moved to safe facilities such as the Borno State Rehabilitation Centre in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri, and Operation SAFE CORRIDOR, where they are de-radicalized, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society. Those whose families could not be traced are handed over to IDP Camps officials for administration.”