Reuters released a report on Monday accusing the Nigerian military of slaughtering children during its battles against Boko Haram and other jihadist groups.
Last week, another Reuters report said the Nigerian military had run a forced abortion program for nearly a decade in the area occupied by militant groups.
Monday report on the killings of children cited 44 civilian and 15 military eyewitnesses, who said that Nigerian forces deliberately killed the “children of Boko Haram”. Children were often killed and buried in mass graves with their mothers and fathers.
“Soldiers and armed guards employed by the government told Reuters that army commanders had repeatedly ordered them to ‘delete’ children because the children were believed to be collaborating with militants from Boko Haram or its branch of the Islamic State, or having inherited the tainted blood of insurgent fathers,” the report alleged.
“Soldiers selected babies and toddlers to kill after rescuing them and their mothers from Islamist militants; youths arrested for interrogation and killed in raids on homes and markets; or massacred children with adult civilians in counter-terrorism operations that were to leave no survivors,” the report continues.
Reuters conducted a detailed investigation of six incidents with at least 60 young victims, but the authors cited estimates that “thousands” of children have been killed over the past 13 years. Many parents told reporters that their children were taken away by the military years ago and they don’t know if the missing youngsters are alive.
“I don’t see them as children, I see them as Boko Haram. If I get my hands on them, I won’t shoot them, I’ll slit their throats…I like it,” a Nigerian soldier whose best friend was killed by the insurgents told researchers.
Other soldiers told Reuters they were prepared to shoot children because Boko Haram and other jihadist groups were recruiting them as child soldiers or “human bombs”.
Nigerian military officials have denied the claims and insisted their troops are professionals who are ‘trained to protect lives even at their own risk, especially when it comes to the lives of children , women and the elderly.
Reuters, however, noted that there had been previous allegations from human rights groups and the International Criminal Court of killings of civilians and children. The Nigerian government investigated allegations of extrajudicial killings by its military forces in 2015, but the investigation was dropped.
Last Wednesday, Reuters reported on a “secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme” in northeast Nigeria that has terminated at least 10,000 pregnancies since 2013.
The subjects were often women “kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants”. These women were “beaten, held at gunpoint, or drugged” when they resisted.
A woman testifying under the pseudonym “Fati” described her experience after being rescued from a forced marriage with jihadists:
About a week later, Fati said, she was lying on a mat in a narrow, dark room in a military barracks in Maiduguri, the state capital. It was dirty, with cockroaches crawling on the floor. Uniformed men walked in and out, giving her and five other women injections and mystery pills.
After about four hours, said Fati, who was about four months pregnant, she felt a searing pain in her stomach and black blood leaked from her. The other women were also bleeding and writhing on the ground. The soldiers want to kill us, she thought.
Fati said she and the other women subjected to these crude forced abortions were told they would be “seriously beaten” if they told anyone about their ordeal.
Reuters interviewed 33 women who said they had abortions while in Nigerian military custody. Only one of them declared having consented to the procedure. Some of the girls who were forced to have abortions were only 12 years old. Some of the subjects did not survive their forced abortion.
“Three soldiers and a guard said they routinely assured women, who were often weakened by captivity in the bush, that the pills and injections given to them were intended to restore their health and to combat diseases such as than malaria,” the report said.
As with the report of children killed in the battle against Boko Haram, Nigerian military officials have denied allegations of forced abortion and accused Reuters of defamation.
“The fictional series of stories is actually a set of insults against Nigerian people and culture. Nigerian military personnel have been bred, raised and trained to protect lives even at their peril, especially when it comes to the lives of children, women and the elderly,” Major said. -Nigerian General Jimmy Akpor.