E.G. She had just started high school when she was kidnapped by Boko Haram in her village, Gulak, in eastern Nigeria. In the four years that she was held captive in the Sambisa forest, between 2014 and 2018, she received no training other than reading the Koran three times a day and was forced to marry a member of the terrorist group she did not know, with whom She had two children.

Today, at 17 years old, he remembers the brutalities he suffered and those he witnessed. “My husband was wicked and always beat me, saying he was not studying the Koran. (…) It was a terrible experience. I witnessed different punishments, from shooting to stoning and spanking. I once witnessed the stoning of a member of Boko Haram accused of rape. They buried him in a grave, leaving only his head and then they stoned him to death. Another time, I saw a man being spanked 80 times, his back was bloody. ” Until one day he began to plan with other women how to escape. Of the 10 who tried, three were caught. E.G. He did it, with his two-year-old on his back and the four-month-old baby in his arms.

This is one of 234 accounts of women, men and children in northeast Nigeria that Amnesty International has collected between November 2019 and April 2020. All of them describe the barbarism exerted by Boko Haram, especially against minors, making them soldiers to boys and handcuffs to girls. And they are thousands. In 2017, the UN estimated that this armed group had so far recruited at least 8,000 children, many through kidnapping. And this practice has not stopped. A whole “lost generation” to which the authorities are not providing the psychosocial and educational support they need, denounces the report We Dry Our Tears: The Cost to Children of the Conflict in Northeast Nigeria, which the NGO has published this Wednesday.

In addition to large-scale kidnappings, such as that of the 276 girls in Chibok who unleashed a wave of international solidarity, Amnesty International focuses on individual abductions that occur on a “more daily” basis. In its report, the organization documents dozens of them, among countless human rights violations; 91 pages full of first-person accounts riddled with lashes, beatings, rapes, pain and violence.

Escaping the group does not assure victims of a promising future. “Those who manage to flee end up struggling to survive in displaced persons camps without access to education; and, in the worst case, they are detained and held for months, and even years, in appalling conditions,” explains Olatz Cacho, an expert. in Africa from Amnesty International Spain.

I once witnessed the stoning of a Boko Haram member accused of rape. They buried him leaving only his head and stoned him until he died

E.G. 17-year-old girl who was kidnapped by Boko Haram

“As soon as children can escape the area of ​​direct conflict, they must reconnect with what was their childhood. They need to play, laugh and meet their friends; go back to school. They must be in a safe environment where they can trust adults and feel loved and respected. Their basic needs, such as food, water and housing, must be met to reduce the risk of exploitation or violence, “suggests Severine Courtiol Eguiluz, member of Doctors without Borders in Nigeria, in a story published in 2019 by the NGO that has humanitarian programs in the region. However, what most kids find after the horror is more horror.

H. G. ended up in the Bama IDP camp, where he received medical attention and food – insufficient, according to his testimony – to survive. “I had no psychosocial support or counseling.” After four years in captivity and four months as a refugee, her father did not recognize her when he went looking for her to take her back to his home in Madagali. “A week later, a Christian organization took us to Jos for three days. They prayed for us. They asked us about our experiences with Boko Haram and they told us not to allow those experiences to define our lives. They told us that we had children, that we love them and that we don’t download our frustrations on them. After that, there has been no other support, either from the government or from the NGOs, “says the young woman, who still dreams of going back to school while listening to the shots when the terrorists they attack neighboring villages. “My parents can’t send me to school because they don’t have money. The biggest help for me would be to go to school.”

A 10-year-old girl lives with other minors in an abandoned building in the Abagana camp (eastern Nigeria), which is used as a refuge by those fleeing violence. Benedicte Kurzen (MSF)

“Only 25% of children have access to education in the state of Borno, this is a drag on the future of the region,” says Cacho. “Boko Haram manifestly does not want children to receive training, which they consider to be Western indoctrination,” says the expert. Proof of this are the systematic attacks on schools and the murder of teachers. In 2018, UNICEF reported that more than 1,400 educational infrastructures were destroyed during the conflict and that at least 2,295 teachers had been killed, the Amnesty document highlights. But there are other factors, such as poverty and hunger, that prevent parents from meeting school fees and makes children workers, in order to contribute to the family basket and survive.

O. A., from Bama (Borno State), had never been to school. “I was a rancher. Since I was a child, I lived with animals,” he told NGO researchers. One day he was in the field and Boko Haram took him and his flock. Was 10. “I stayed in the madrasa [escuela coránica] because he was too small. “When he turned 12, he was sent to train for six months. That was how he learned to use his AK-47 rifle and became a fighter.” I stayed with one of the soldiers in Lake Chad. They used me at the checkpoints, “he recalls.

What came next was not much better. O. A. even regretted running away from Boko Haram. “When my brother saw me, he took me to the Civilian Joint Task Force [fuerza que lucha contra el grupo terrorista] and I gave up. “The young man, now 16, was questioned and then sent to Cell 7, for children.” It was crowded. They had to teach me how to lie down. We couldn’t turn around when we slept because of how crowded it was. There was only one bathroom and there were many of us. Sometimes I had to wait an hour, “he recalls. Those who couldn’t contain their urine or feces were beaten.” There wasn’t much drinking water. We were thirsty (…). I saw a person die from thirst. “In that detention center, he spent three months and could only shower once.” I began to wonder why my brother had taken me to that place. Did you want to kill me? “

Amnesty International is launching its investigation to ask the Nigerian government to release the children held in these detention centers. “There have already been massive releases in late 2019 and early 2020, but we still don’t know how many are left inside, as the process is opaque,” says Cacho. “Even the researchers, who have experience in various conflicting contexts, were horrified by the conditions of confinement that they described to them,” he adds. For the NGO, most of these arrests are “illegal” as minors are not charged or prosecuted for any crime and are denied their rights to access legal aid, to appear before a judge or to communicate with their families. A crime against humanity, according to the organization, which estimates that at least 10,000 people, including many minors, have died in government custody during the conflict.

O. A. survived that hell and benefited after Operation Safe Corridor, a de-radicalization and rehabilitation program for repentant fighters – children and adults – from Boko Haram, and which has financial support from the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. The young man was sent, along with 11 other men, to the reintegration center in Gombe for vocational training. Life there, he says, was better. “There was enough water, we had our own bed and a mattress to sleep well. The place was hygienic,” he lists. There, he says, they taught him the alphabet and numbers. “How to Spell”. Finally, O. A. opted for training in cosmetology and manufacturing cleaning products and soaps.

Escaping from Boko Haram does not assure victims of a promising future. “Those who manage to flee end up struggling to survive in camps for the displaced or detained for months,” explains Olatz Cacho, expert at Amnesty International.

Despite the best conditions, the training and psychosocial support that the repentant receive, Amnesty denounces “great deficiencies” in this program. “Most of the men and boys at the center have not been informed of the legal basis for their detention and still do not have access to legal aid or a court to challenge their detention,” write the authors of the report. Some ex-prisoners explained that medical care was extremely scarce. “Seven detainees died after receiving inadequate health care and the Nigerian authorities did not even inform their families, who became aware of the deaths through released detainees,” says the NGO.

And that’s not all. The vocational training program could amount to forced labor, Amnesty warns, since most detainees have never been convicted of any crime and manufacture all kinds of items, from shoes to soaps and furniture, without remuneration. “None of the main donors of Corredor Seguro would authorize a prolonged and illegal detention system for its citizens. So why do they allow it in Nigeria? ”Asks Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

Girls like E. G. cannot even access this program, with all its shortcomings, even if they wanted to in order to train and learn a trade. “This also has to be reviewed, they are marginalized,” says Cacho.

Asked about this, Unicef ​​Nigeria answers the following: “Children are extremely vulnerable in the conflict in northeast Nigeria, and their protection and needs must continue to be the highest priority in both the security and humanitarian response. Children should remain just that, children. And as such, they should be in schools and with their families. Using them in conflict or keeping them in prolonged detention has a devastating impact on their lives. Their protection is crucial to building the future of Nigeria and, consequently, of the entire region. These children are, first and foremost, victims who, unfortunately, have been caught up in this conflict. Unicef ​​supports them on their way to normality, that is, with their families and communities ”.

“I don’t know how they can get out of such trauma, after years of human rights abuses,” reflects Cacho.

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