Troops fighting Boko Haram in the North-East treat children caught with explosives as “victims of war, not as suspects”, says the Defence Headquarters, Abuja.
The DHQ said on Monday children arrested with Improvised Explosive Devices were kept in facilities where they were profiled and de-radicalised before their release.
The acting Director, Defence Information, Col Onyema Nwachukwu, said this in a statement, adding that the children of female Boko Haram terrorists arrested by troops were also separated from their mothers.
Nwachukwu said the military was reacting to a report by the Human Rights Watch to be released today, which accused the military of arbitrarily detaining and torturing children in its detention facilities in the North-East.
The spokesman denied the report, saying it was capable of undermining the efforts of the armed forces to restore peace in the North-East.
He said, “It is an established fact that Boko Haram terrorists indoctrinate women and children who they use as suicide bombers in the theatre of operations. In the conduct of operations, troops arrest these children while attempting to detonate explosives.
“The armed forces manage children in the North-East theatre as victims of war, not as suspects. Apprehended children are kept in secure places, where they are adequately fed, profiled and de-radicalised before their release. Children are released to appropriate authorities after de-radicalisation efforts by appropriate government agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations.
“It is expedient to state that only profiled Boko Haram and Islamic State West African Province terrorists are held in detention pending their prosecution by appropriate prosecuting agencies, as the armed forces are not vested with the power of prosecution.
“It is also necessary to clarify, that aside from the set of children involved in acts of terrorism, some female Boko Haram terrorists have also been found to be with children. During the process of profiling and investigations, the women opt to keep their children rather than hand them over to relations. While the female terrorists are kept in the detention facility, their children are given protected care in a welfare holding facility, not a detention facility, where they could be accessed by their mothers under supervision by female personnel.”
According to Nwachukwu, children caught in act of terrorism are moved to safe facilities such as the Borno State Rehabilitation Centre in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri, and Operation Safe Corridor.
He said rights organisations should not publish “poorly researched and shallow reports, capable of undermining national security efforts”.