The United Nations has negotiated the release of 876 children who have been detained by the Nigerian Army for their suspected affiliation with Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram.
An official of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Manuel Fontaine said on Friday that “876 children had been held in the barracks in Maiduguri.”
It was not immediately clear how long the children had been detained, but the army routinely keeps close tabs on civilians who have been living in areas that had been under the control of Boko Haram insurgents on suspicion that they too might be linked to terrorist activities.
Rights groups have condemned the Army’s action saying there is no proper legal process for such civilians, including the children.
The United Nations insists that children should not be kept in detention.
“We fear that there are still kids who are being at least temporarily detained because they are being released from Boko Haram areas by the army but then kept for a while,” Fontaine, UNICEF’S regional director for Western and Central Africa, told reporters by telephone.
He gave no details of the ages of the children or how long they had been held at the barracks.
Fontaine also said the conflict, which has killed thousands and displaced more than two million, had separated about 20,000 children from their parents, of which 5,000 had since been reunited with their families.
“Once we get children out, there is a major issue of stigmatization in the communities,” Fontaine said. “There is a sense that children who have been associated with Boko Haram for a while, could be, and in some cases we have some evidence, are rejected by community and people around them.”