“Sometimes, you see that a little boy goes into the toilet and immediately, an adult detainee goes after them, and when the boy comes out, you don’t need to be told what has happened to him,” a former warder at Nigeria’s Maiduguri Prison told Amnesty International.

Abuse of children is not unusual in those cells. Nor is it kept a secret – so much so that it is sometimes possible to hear the abuse happening, entangled in the muffled sobs of a child.

“The condition there [in the prison] is not good for children and it is difficult to stop what is going on with the boys. The only way is for them to be taken out of there. What do you expect when you keep children with grown-up men?” the man added.

An investigation by Amnesty revealed that children are being unlawfully detained at two notorious prisons in the country – Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison and Giwa Barracks. Such incarceration of children exposes them to violations of the most ineffable kind.

Isa Sanusi, Media and Communications Manager of Amnesty International Nigeria explained: “Our investigation shows rampant cases of sexual abuse of children in Maiduguri Maximum Security Prison in the Borno state of Nigeria. We found that children are kept in the same prison cells as adults. This gave the adults an opportunity to exploit and sexually abuse the children. Officials are aware that this abuse is going on, but they refused to do anything about it. Little boys are frequently sexually abused by other inmates, and women and girls also face similar exploitation.”

Sanusi divulged that Amnesty has repeatedly asked the Nigerian authorities to work towards safeguarding children in a more effectual manner, and to put a ban on the detaining of children in the same facilities as adults.

“We are again and again calling on the Nigerian government to end this situation that allows this abuse to take place. It is illegal and harmful to keep children in the same prison or detention facility as adults. Many children are currently being held in similar situations all across Nigeria,” she said. “We call on Nigerian authorities to investigate these allegations – independently and impartially, to ensure that those found guilty will be held accountable. Nigerian authorities must provide separate detention facilities for children. It is unlawful to keep children in the same detention cell with adults.”

Amnesty also interviewed female inmates in their report, who detailed circumstances of being forced into sexual relationships with security guards to barter for food, soap, clothing, and other basic necessities. Furthermore, the women are commonly led to believe that should they engage in such activities, that they might be released. Since the soldiers are responsible for calling out the names of those due to be released, it is easy for them to read out a favoured name instead.

One former detainee alleged that she had become pregnant by a soldier. When the time was right, the man in question did the necessary documentation so that her name would be called out amongst those who set to be released.

“It is usually a case of security forces who are guarding detention facilities, exploiting women detainees in exchange for food or other things. Some women told us that they witness cases of rape and other forms of exploitation of women by security personnel. And sometimes women are promised freedom if they agree to offer sex,” Sanusi went on to say.

As a result of the Boko Haram conflict, people suspected of having any connections to it were detained in facilities all over the nation. Many of the women were kidnapped, raped, or forced into marriages by Boko Haram, and instead of being liberated, were arrested for being “Boko Haram wives”. The women continue to be imprisoned – despite this going against both Nigerian law and international human rights law.

“There is a need for authorities to ensure that all those detained on suspicion of links to Boko Haram are either freed or prosecuted before a court of law. And all the security personnel accused of sexually abusing women and children must be held responsible,” Sanusi stated.

“Nigeria’s justice system failed to ensure timely prosecution of suspects or release of those found not guilty of any offences. This is the reason why there are many detainees – some spending years in detention without trial. The women and children are being sexually exploited because of the lack of safeguards in the detention facilities, and as such, have been rendered vulnerable.

Since 2016, Amnesty has reported that seven women have given birth inside the cramped and squalid prison, and that several women, children, and babies have died on the Giwa’s compound.