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15 tortured children rescued from an Islamic school in Nigeria

Police have freed 15 children from an Islamic school in central Nigeria where they were kept in chains and tortured.

The children, aged between two and 10, were discovered Sunday in a ‘dehumanising condition’ at an informal Koran school in the town of Suleja in Niger state, regional police spokesman Wasiu Abiodun said on Tuesday.

In the house where they were found, ‘three chains used to tie their legs were also recovered,’ he said.

It comes after a spate of raids on such institutions last year led to over 1,000 people, many of them children, being rescued. 

Abiodun said signs of torture, including scars and wounds were discovered on the children when they were rescued.

He said the cleric who ran the school, Umar Ahmed, 46, was arrested during the raid.

‘The case is under investigation and the suspect will soon be arraigned in court for prosecution,’ he said.

Informal Islamic religious schools, called almajiri schools, are common in Nigeria, where there is a chronic lack of government services.

They are widely criticised for squalid conditions, poor treatment and making pupils beg on the streets.

Many also operate as so-called rehabilitation centres, for drug addicts and children with behavioural problems. 

Last year, three major raids on such institutes in less than a month led to police rescuing hundreds of inmates. 

Police freed about 500 men and boys from an Islamic school in Katsina, northern Nigeria in October 2019. 

The men were shackled and tortured at the school where they had been enrolled by their families to learn the Koran. Many had also been sent there to be treated for drug addiction. 

The news came less than three weeks after nearly 500 men and young boys were freed from the Islamic boarding school in Kaduna, around 280 miles south of Daura.

On September 26, police discovered nearly 500 men and young boys standing in rows wearing ankle shackles, while others had their hands chained. Other photos show the torture victims with horrific scars on their backs.

One victim even claimed that previous students had died from being tortured.

Parents have since been reunited with some of the children rescued by police at the Hajj transit camp.

Police said the detainees were from Burkina Faso, Mali and other African countries.

The victims, including adults and minors, were kept in ‘the most debasing and inhuman conditions in the name of teaching them the Koran and reforming them’, Kaduna state police spokesman Yakubu Sabo said.

Police had been tipped off by complaints from local residents who became suspicious of what was happening inside the school.

During the raid on the school, police said they found a ‘torture chamber’ where students were chained, hung and beaten. 

The school, which has been operating for a decade, enrolled students brought by their families to learn the Koran and be rehabilitated from drug abuse and other illnesses, police said.

The proprietor of the school and six staff were arrested during the raid in Kaduna.  

In November last year, Nigerian police freed 259 emaciated women, men and teenagers from another Islamic rehabilitation centre where captives said they were chained and beaten. 

Many reported that they were beaten regularly by their captors after they were released from the prison-like building with bars over its windows in Ibadan. 

They appeared to be malnourished and one of the men told local media, ‘We eat one meal a day,’ while another described how he had been held captive by the clerics for smoking a cigarette. 

In May, governors of the 19 states in northern Nigeria announced a ban on almajiri schools over fears they could become hubs for spreading the coronavirus.

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