Dakar — Boys and girls as young as 10 are being forcibly recruited by warring sides in northern Nigeria, as well as being subjected to abductions, sexual violence and arbitrary detention, a rights group said.
Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said in a report on Thursday that both Islamist Boko Haram militants and the Civilian Joint Task Force, a self-defense militia in the northeastern Borno State, have used children for tasks ranging from spying and cooking to fighting.
The report also said that Nigerian security forces have been holding captured Boko Haram child soldiers in unofficial military detention facilities known for the mistreatment of detainees, instead of protecting and rehabilitating them.
"The government of Nigeria should denounce the recruitment of children by all armed groups, take immediate steps to release child soldiers in their custody, and develop procedures to transfer child soldiers to civilian actors," said Watchlist researcher Janine Morna in a statement.
Nigerian officials were not immediately available for comment.
Boko Haram, whose name means 'western education is forbidden', has killed thousands of people since 2009 in their drive to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.
Fighting in northern Nigeria has uprooted some 700,000 people. Tens of thousands of them have fled to neighbouring countries Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
The apparent powerlessness of the military to protect civilians or prevent the militants' raids has triggered much criticism of President Goodluck Jonathan's administration - and led to the creation of local vigilante groups.
Watchlist said Boko Haram attacks on schools have resulted in death, injury, or abduction of at least 414 students, teachers, or other civilians on school premises between January 2012 and July 2014.
Boko Haram drew international condemnation when it kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in the northeast village of Chibok in April. They remain in captivity.
"While the abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok, Borno State, has shed some light on how children are affected by the conflict in the northeast, most abuses are still poorly documented, understood, and addressed by key actors," Morna said.
(Editing by Katie Nguyen)