A global rights group, Amnesty International, has condemned the treatment of children arrested for allegedly engaging in terrorism, accusing the Nigerian military of subjecting children to torture in prolonged and illegal detention.
It urged the Nigerian government to urgently address its failure to protect and provide education to an entire generation of children in the North-east, a region it said was devastated by years of Boko Haram atrocities and gross violations by the military.
In the 91-page report entitled: 'We dried our tears': Addressing the toll on children of North-east Nigeria's conflict,' the rights group highlighted how the military's alleged 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.
It also revealed how international donors have bankrolled a flawed programme that claims to reintegrate former alleged fighters, but which overwhelmingly amounts to unlawful detention of children and adults.
"The past decade of bitter conflict between Nigeria's military and Boko Haram has been an assault on childhood itself in North-east Nigeria. The Nigerian authorities risk creating a lost generation unless they urgently address how the war has targeted and traumatised thousands of children," said the Acting Director of Crisis Response at Amnesty International, Joanne Mariner.
"Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked schools and abducted large numbers of children as soldiers or 'wives,' among other atrocities.
"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 the belief that children anywhere would be so grievously harmed by the very authorities charged with their protection," Mariner added.
Between November 2019 and April 2020, Amnesty International said it interviewed more than 230 people affected by the conflict, including 119 who were children when they suffered serious crimes by Boko Haram, the Nigerian military, or both.
According to the group, this included 48 children held in military detention for months or years, as well as 22 adults who had been detained with children.
"Children have been among those most impacted by Boko Haram's string of atrocities carried out over large swathes of North-east Nigeria for nearly a decade. The armed group's classic tactics have included attacks on schools, widespread abductions, recruitment, and use of child soldiers, and forced marriage of girls and young women, which all constitute crimes under international law," the group said.
"This pattern of crimes is well-known because of high-profile cases like the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014. However, the scale of abductions has been often underestimated and certainly appears to run into the thousands. Boko Haram continues to force parents to hand over boys and girls, under threat of death. It continues to forcibly 'marry' girls and young women. And it continues to murder people who try to escape.
"Children in areas under Boko Haram control have been subjected to torture, including floggings and other beatings, as well as forced to watch public executions and other brutal punishments.
"Children who escape Boko Haram territory face a raft of violations by the Nigerian authorities, also including crimes under international law. At best, they end up displaced, struggling for survival, and with little or no access to education. At worst, they are arbitrarily detained for years in military barracks, in conditions amounting to torture or other ill-treatment.
"The UN told Amnesty International it has verified the release of 2,879 children from military detention since 2015, although it previously cited a higher figure of children detained between 2013 and 2019. These statistics are likely to be a vast underestimate, and the UN has said its access to military detention is restricted so it cannot provide the actual number of children detained in the context of the conflict," the report explained.