One in every five “suicide bombers” used by Boko Haram in the past two years has been a child, a report by UNICEF says.
Babies and children have died in squalid conditions in a military detention centre in northeast Nigeria, where suspected Boko Haram members are being held, often without any evidence, according to an Amnesty International report.
The UK-based human rights group said 149 people, including at least 12 children and babies, have died in the Giwa barracks, the main military prison in Maiduguri, because of appalling and unsanitary conditions, since the beginning of this year.
The Nigerian military dumps bodies of detainees who died in the barracks in the Gwange cemetery nearby, Amnesty said.
Thousands of Boko Haram gunmen and suspected fighters have been detained in the Giwa barracks since the battle between the armed group and the Nigerian army began six years ago.
In its report, Amnesty said evidence gathered through interviews with former detainees and witnesses, and supported by video and photographs, shows that many detainees may have died from disease, hunger, dehydration and gunshot wounds.
“We’ve spoken to former inmates. They’ve given us eyewitness accounts of seeing children dying in detention,” Colm O Cuanachain, a senior official with Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera.
“Overcrowding and the conditions there were clearly contributing to a situation where children were dying,” he said.
The Nigerian military says that most of the detainees in Giwa are “terror suspects”.
But Amnesty said that more than 120 of the 1,200 detainees currently being held in the facility are children, some as young as five.
“Many of the young children were detained when their mothers were arrested, while others were born in detention,” the group says in its report.
Amnesty also said operations by the Nigerian military against Boko Haram have led to thousands of people being arbitrarily rounded up, arrested, and thrown into Giwa barracks with no evidence against them. Earlier this year soldiers released 50 children.
“The Nigerian government and military forces are determined to destroy Boko Haram and prosecute its fighters,” said Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, reporting from the capital Abuja.
“Some Nigerians fear that deaths of innocent people, including children, are an inevitable consequence of the violence.
“This is not the first time concerns have been raised about Giwa barracks. A report from June last year said in the past five years, 7,000 detainees died from starvation, thirst, disease and torture while in military detention.”
Al Jazeera approached the Nigerian military and government for comment without getting a response.