World Bulletin / News Desk
Hundreds of children of suspected Boko Haram fighters rescued by the Nigerian army are facing isolation and hostility at displaced persons' (IDP) camps in the country's northeast, according to sources in the area.
Mostly set up in public schools with residents sleeping on makeshift beds, there are 10 official IDP camps spread across the northeast alone but other, unofficial, camps also exist.
Only nine percent of the 1.8 million people displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency live in such camps, while the remainder live within host communities, according to official figures from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Dan Borno, a member of a local volunteer network supporting the displaced persons, identified a camp in northeastern Damboa town as being notorious for ostracizing and discriminating against the rebel fighters’ children.
"The Nigerian army [took] these children, along with many others rescued from Boko Haram. But they are isolated by some camp occupants who are not Boko Haram members," he tells Anadolu Agency.
Borno said most of the children taken into Damboa camp have had their parents killed in combat with Nigerian troops.
"These children come mainly from towns and villages that were 100 percent Boko Haram, such as Alagarno. Once such children are brought to the camp, they are immediately barred from mingling with other camp occupants," he added.
The Boko Haram rebel group is at the heart of a violent insurgency which has ravaged the country's northeast since 2009. Beginning as an Islamic group which rejected government corruption and Western values, the organization went on to conduct a large-scale campaign of violence.
At the height of its power in 2014, the group controlled a territory the size of Belgium and kidnapped thousands of people in raids on local communities.
Nigeria’s army, backed by regional troops drawn from Cameroon, Chad and Niger, has helped to roll back much of Boko Haram’s gains. Operations by the army have led to the rescue of thousands of people held by militants.
Those freed have included the wives and children of militants, along with others abducted from their homes.
Children constitute just over half of the total IDP figure; around 26 percent of them still aged under five years. No official data exist for the number of such children known to have Boko Haram parents.
Abdullahi Yusuf, another camp volunteer from Biu town, is alarmed by the ostracizing of supposed Boko Haram children in the camps:
"The practice is becoming a standard conduct that must be stopped. The children were practically asked to stay away from other people, and we feel this is very dangerous," he said.
Yusuf adds that the practice is not limited to Damboa: "Even the children in the official camps here in Maiduguri don't fare any better.”
NEMA regional coordinator, Mohammed Kanar, did not respond to Anadolu Agency's request for comment.
Many Nigerians have raised the fear that such practices risk further alienating and scapegoating the children, creating a breeding ground for future anger.
Such discrimination is not limited to the children, according to a February report sponsored by UNICEF.
The 'Bad Blood' report says women abducted and forcibly married to militants are also being discriminated against in camps and their communities -- along with children they had by the rebel fighters.
"As...victims of conflict reach internally displaced person (IDP) camps in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC) or attempt to return to their villages of origin, many of them are suffering from acute mental distress resulting from sexual, psychological and physical violence suffered in captivity," according to the report.
“Yet, a significant proportion of them still face stigma and rejection from their communities.”
The report said such treatment exposes the victims to potential violence and continuous rejection.
Debo Adeniran, head of the Child Help in Legal Defense of Right to Education in Nigeria (CHILDREN Project), called on the government to intervene to save minors as well as counsel local communities about the consequences of such actions.
"No child should face discrimination or abandonment of any sort by the authorities or adults around them. As such, this could further endanger community cohesion and peace," Adeniran told Anadolu Agency.
"But the situation with children of Boko Haram could be a little bit tricky because some persons who once helped such kids in the past were killed in the process.
“A couple of people who wanted to help rehabilitate such children were misunderstood by their Boko Haram parents who claimed the ‘good Samaritans’ wanted to abduct their kids.
"So, to this extent, it is understandable that people could be wary of these kids. Those who isolated the kids may fear the consequences of living among them. But this is without prejudice to the need to not stigmatize these children, especially if it is established that their parents are no more.
"We believe these kids deserve care ... not scorn, so they should not be made to suffer for the sins of their parents, especially when these kids are minors. It is wrong to stigmatize these kids."