Police in northern Cameroon said they have freed 70 children from an illegal disciplinary camp, where the children say they were left by their parents to be chained and beaten. According to authorities, camp workers were detained and the injured and traumatized children are being treated.
Cameroon police said they entered an illegal disciplinary camp, known locally as a traditional rehabilitation center for wayward children, in the city of Ngaoundere.
Police said they freed 70 boys and girls 6 to 14 years old Tuesday, with many limping as a result of torture and others with fresh wounds.
Among the freed children is 14-year-old Alim Iddrisou, who said when he refused to attend a Quranic school in March 2020, his parents accused him of having a lack of respect for community rules and elders and took him to the center.
He said God saved his life and gave him courage to bear the gruesome torture inflicted on him by workers of the center. He said he spent the first of his two years in the camp with his feet chained, and each child was served a poorly cooked meal each day and anyone who complained was beaten by the camp's guards.
Speaking on local media, Iddrisou said each time the few toilets in the camp were occupied, workers forced children to defecate in plastic bags or urinate in bottles. He said older boys were escorted to empty the feces and urine in a nearby stream at night.
The freed children said four of their peers died of torture and starvation within the past three months and they do not know where their bodies were buried. Police acknowledge that a few children died. The government said it is still trying to identify their parents.
Kildadi Taguieke Boukar is the governor of Cameroon's Adamawa region, where Ngaoundere is located, said he ordered children who looked tired and frail to be rushed to local hospitals. Boukar also said he has asked police to locate parents of the freed children so they can answer to charges that will include child abuse and negligence.
Boukar ordered local government officials, clerics, elite, community leaders and village chiefs to help put a stop to this form of primitiveness and torture by reporting promoters of such disciplinary camps to the police. He said parents who send their children to such camps will be punished, as Cameroon is a state of laws and its citizens must respect human rights or face the consequences.
Owners of the camp and its workers have been arrested by police. The camp owners are to be charged with torture, homicide, illegal detention and child abuse.
Rights groups like the Yaounde-headquartered Center for Religious Studies and some Muslim groups like the Council of Imams and Muslim Dignitaries of Cameroon, have previously criticized what they call the proliferation of Islamic disciplinary camps in Cameroon.
The government says even though such camps were prohibited in 2017, many are hidden within communities and operate illegally. The government says it will locate and close such centers and educate parents about the abuses committed there.