UN gains re­lease of 876 chil­dren de­tained by Nige­ria mil­i­tary

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Michelle Faul

LA­GOS, Nige­ria — The United Na­tions has ne­go­ti­ated the re­lease this year of 876 chil­dren de­tained at a Nige­rian army bar­racks hold­ing sus­pected col­lab­o­ra­tors of the Boko Haram Is­lamic ex­trem­ist group, the U.N. Chil­dren’s Fund an­nounced Fri­day.

The agency fears hun­dreds more chil­dren are still held at the bar­racks in the north­east­ern city of Maiduguri, said the UNICEF spokes­woman for Nige­ria, Doune Porter.

This is the first time the U.N. has re­ported ne­go­ti­at­ing the re­leases, though Nige­ria’s army rou­tinely re­ports how many mi­nors are among the hun­dreds of de­tainees it frees after in­ter­ro­ga­tions it says es­tab­lish they have no links to Boko Haram.

Some of the 876 chil­dren re­leased since De­cem­ber had been liv­ing in ar­eas held by Boko Haram and were de­tained when those ar­eas were lib­er­ated, ac­cord­ing to Manuel Fon­taine, UNICEF’s direc­tor for West and Cen­tral Africa.

Porter said many of the freed chil­dren were un­der 5 years old, some still be­ing breast- fed, and were de­tained be­cause their par­ents were sus­pects.

Nige­ria’s mil­i­tary and po­lice lock up chil­dren along with par­ents sus­pected of a crime.

In the big­gest sin­gle re- lease ne­go­ti­ated by UNICEF, 560 peo­ple were freed in Septem­ber, in­clud­ing 430 chil­dren and some of t heir moth­ers, Porter said.

Those de­tained have been held in Maiduguri, the birth­place of Boko Haram and the home of the Nige­rian army’s Giwa Bar­racks.

All of the de­tainees at the bar­racks are held be­cause of sus­pected sup­port for Boko Haram.

The As­so­ci­ated Press has doc­u­mented the deaths of thousands of de­tainees in un­san­i­tary, over­crowded and in­hu­mane con­di­tions at Giwa Bar­racks in re­cent years.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has said 8,000 de­tainees died there be­tween 2011 and 2015.

This year, Amnesty called for the de­ten­tion cen­ter’s clo­sure, say­ing ba­bies and chil­dren are among the many de­tainees dy­ing from dis­ease, hunger, de­hy­dra­tion and un­treated gun­shot wounds.

Min­istry of De­fense spokesman Brig Gen. Rabe Abubakar has called the charges by the Lon­don­based human rights group “a dis­trac­tion,” in­sist­ing that “our duty is to pro­tect lives, and that is what we have been do­ing.”

Once freed from de­ten­tion, the of­ten mal­nour­ished and trau­ma­tized chil­dren face other chal­lenges, Porter said.

Boko Haram’s use of child sui­cide bombers has con­trib­uted to the fear.


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