'84 children held in Cameroon after series of raids on schools accused of supporting Boko Haram' - human rights activists
A total of 84 children are being held in Cameroon after a series of raids on schools accused of supporting Boko Haram, human rights activists say.
Amnesty International said some of the children are as young as five years old, and have been held for months without any charges.
Authorities say the Koranic schools they were attending in Cameroon's far north were actually training camps for the Boko Haram extremist group.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for West and Central Africa, urged Cameroonian officials to release the children to their parents.
Nearly all the children are under 15, the age at which they can face criminal charges under a regional human rights charter, of which Cameroon is a signatory.
Nigera-based Boko Haram has waged a six-year insurgency seeking to implement an Islamic caliphate. In recent months, militants have stepped up attacks inside neighbouring countries.
Cameroonian forces arrested the 84 children in December along with 43 men in the northern town of Guirvidig, accusing the teachers of using the schools "as fronts for Boko Haram training camps," Amnesty said.
"They said they would dig our grave and throw us into it. We were scared," one child told Amnesty.
"Then they roughed up our teachers. Some among them had blood all over their faces."
Food is now running low at the centre where the children have been detained in the northern town of Maroua, Amnesty said.
Cameroon is struggling to keep people in the far north from joining Boko Haram.
Earlier this week, Cameroon assembled all its Muslim leaders in the capital, Yaounde, to teach them how to identify and denounce promoters of Islamic State ideology.