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    Nigeria urged to free children detained over Boko Haram ties

    ABUJA (AFP) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday urged Nigeria to release thousands of children detained by the military over suspected links with Boko Haram.

    The United States (US)-based global watchdog said in a 50-page report released in Abuja that thousands of children are being arbitrarily detained in degrading and inhuman conditions in military cells, particularly at Giwa barracks in the restive northeastern city of Maiduguri.

    “Many children are held without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded military barracks, with no contact with the outside world,” it said.

    According to the United Nations (UN), 3,600 children, including 1,617 girls, are believed to have been detained between January 2013 and March 2019 for suspected involvement with non-state armed groups. “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,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for HRW.

    “Many of these children already survived attacks by Boko Haram. The authorities’ cruel treatment adds to their suffering and victimises them further,” he said.

    Becker conceded the country was facing “formidable challenges from the Boko Haram insurgency, but detaining thousands of children is not the answer”.

    He said children affected by the conflict need rehabilitation and schooling, not prison.

    The decade-long insurgency in northeast Nigeria by Boko Haram has killed over 27,000 people, displaced some two million, and spilt over into neighbouring countries, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.

    HRW asked the Nigerian government to sign a UN protocol that would ensure the transfer of the affected children to child protection authorities for rehabilitation, family reunification, and community reintegration.

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