Amnesty International in drive to end child abuse

Amnesty International has launched a drive to end what is says are "serious human rights violations" in the treatment of detained children in Burundi.

Highlighting the plight of eight detained children, the campaign urges people to write letters calling on the nation's president and his ministers of justice, defence, interior, and human rights to take "more robust steps" to end widespread torture and ill-treatment in detention centres.

In a December 2002 document titled "Poverty, Isolation and Ill-treatment: Juvenile Justice in Burundi", Amnesty says children are arrested arbitrarily and detained illegally and for prolonged periods, given unfair trials and handed down disproportionate sentences they have to serve under poor prison conditions.

"Children endure harsh, overcrowded and life-threatening conditions of detention," Amnesty said.

It added that the authorities had failed to provide educational or recreational programmes essential to the growth and development of children, "leaving children stifled".

In addition, it said, children were detained with adults, leaving them open to bullying and sexual abuse. Of a total prison population of around 9,000, around 160 children under the age of 18 years were being held in Burundi's 11 prisons, Amnesty said. "The overwhelming majority are male," it said.

Moreover, a number of other children are detained in various local police, gendarmerie and military detention facilities. Babies also form part of the juvenile prison population, with 50 babies and infants living with their mothers in prison.

"Young children in detention are deprived the social stimulation and participation necessary for their development," Amnesty said.