Amnesty International has called on Cameroon to immediately release 84 children who have been held for months without charge, after the teachers at their Koranic schools were accused of running terrorist training camps.
According to Amnesty, some of the children are as young as five years. Ilaria Allegrozzi is a researcher for the rights group. She told DW that the children pose no serious threat to Cameroon's security.
DW: Why have the children been detained for such a long time?
Ilaria Allegrozzi: That's a good question. On December 20, 2014, there was a raid in the small town of Guirvidig, which is in the far north province of Cameroon. It was a military raid conducted jointly by the security forces: the police, the gendarmes, and the army. During this raid, many people were rounded up. Among them were 84 children. They were first taken to Maroua, which is the main city in the province and then transferred to the gendarmerie headquarters. There they were detained for four days before being brought to a center for children, where they still are after so many months.
Is there a possibility that they could be charged and sent to juvenile detention centers?
This isn't really a juvenile detention center. There are no charges so far against the children, and some of them are very young. There are a few children about five, six and seven years old. That's why we are calling for the immediate release of these children, because there's no charge against them. So it's definitely an illegal and unlawful detention. Plus, according to many fair-trial standards in Africa and internationally, there's a minimum age for criminal responsibility - and in Africa it's 15. The African Charter (on Human and Peoples' Rights), which Cameroon has certified, said it's 15. So that's why we are calling for their immediate release. Many of them are under 15. And for those who are above 15, who are aged 16 to 18, we call for charges to be brought against them. And if they are deprived of their liberty, there should be some protection for them, because they are under 18.
Your organization raised the issue with the authorities. What have they been telling you about the release or the detention of the kids?
So far there's been no response from the authorities regarding the fate of these children. We have been asking different authorities concerned, among them the ministry of justice and the ministry of social affairs, under which the children are detained, and we have received absolutely no response. So it looks like there is some kind of bureaucratic mess, which needs to be sorted out for these children to be freed and to rejoin their families as soon as possible.
Do these children pose any security threat to Cameroon and the region - in your opinion?
I don't think these children pose any security threat for Cameroon at the moment, and detaining children will definitely not protect Cameroonians from Boko Haram as far as we understand.
Ilaria Allegrozzi is an Amnesty International researcher on Central Africa.
Interview: Isaac Mugabi