Some children detained at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, have alleged that soldiers impregnated some of them while in detention.
The children, who were quoted to have made the claims in a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), said they had also caught soldiers making sexual advances to some of detainees while taking some away for long periods, presumably for sexual exploitation.
The barracks is the main detention facility in Borno State. Children are arrested during security sweeps, military operations, screening procedures outside of camps for internally displaced persons, and based on information provided by informants. The United Nations said in a report that over 3,600 children, including 1,617 girls, have been detained between 2013 and 2019.
Although the Giwa barracks has a cell designated for children under age 18 only, the military often holds children in adult cells, where food and water were scarcer and conditions even more crowded. Very young children and babies were kept with their mothers and older girls in a separate female cell.
Children detained in the barracks described squalid, severely overcrowded conditions. Confined in cells of about 10 by 10 meters with up to 300 other detainees, children said they were forced to sleep on their sides, packed tightly together in rows like “razorblades in a pack.”
The report quoted the children as saying they suffered overwhelming heat, frequent hunger, and an overpowering stench from hundreds of detainees sharing a single open toilet. Many said they observed soldiers carrying dead bodies of other detainees from their cell or other cells.
Many children described an overwhelming stench in the cells. Sani, a detainee, was quoted to have said, “When the smell was very bad, it made me want to faint. We used our clothes to cover our nose and mouth, but our clothes were very dirty, so it didn’t really help.”
“A cell would typically have a single toilet or a couple of buckets for 250 or 300 people. Saeed was held in an adult cell at Giwa for several months.
“We didn’t have toilets initially, we had buckets in the cells. One for feces and one for urine. People had to use them in full view of others, and it smelled badly. They were emptied once every day. We suffered this for three or four months until the Red Cross intervened by building a toilet inside the room and then put a wall to separate the toilet for some privacy.”
HRW urged the federal government to release the children and adopt the United Nations handover protocol to ensure their swift transfer to child protection authorities to get rehabilitated and reunited with their families.