POLICE have arrested two foreigners in Lusaka's Chaisa township for unlawful confinement and abuse of 280 children being kept at an Islamic school.
A team of police and Government officials, acting on a tip-off from some residents, rushed to the Faiz-E-Abrar Islamic Trust school and found the children, all males aged between four and 10, kept in a warren of cells.
The two arrested men are Boyd Kanyanta a Congolese who is the vice-chairman at the school and Iqbal Patel of Asian origin who is the chairman and director of the institution.
The children, clad in robes and Islamic caps told Youth, Sports and Child Development Minister Gladys Nyirongo, one of those who rushed to the school, that they wanted to leave the centre where they were sometimes fed on rotten food kept in a sewer.
Reverend Nyirongo wondered why only Zambian children were found at the school where Islam was compulsory when every child had a right to choose a religion of one's choice.
She said there were reports that the plan was for the children to be sent out of Zambia at some time when they had attained a level of Islamic education and fluency in an Eastern language.
"We don't want to have another al-Qaeda network in Zambia. This appears to be a very serious arrangement," Rev Nyirongo said.
The children also said they were not allowed to speak any local language while in school and a breach of the rule attracted capital punishment from their instructors.
They complained that they were subjected to Islamic teachings, caged in small rooms and made to eat food kept in a man-hole once they strayed from the Islamic teachings.
Four inmates were made to sleep on one a single mattresses in a crammed room of 12.
Lusaka police chief Chendela Musonda said the manner the children were being kept was worrying and investigations had been launched to establish the truth behind the school.
He said police officers would be stationed at the school to ensure that there was no further victimisation of the children while investigations were going on.
Mr Musonda said the two school directors were also charged with failing to provide necessities to children and child abuse.
Rev Nyirongo said the children were fed on expired foods while a lot of money was received from foreign donors for the operations of the same institution.
She said most of the children were malnourished and Government was making consultations on whether to close the school or not depending on the outcome of the investigations.
"Some people are using these children to satisfy their own interest in or outside this country against the law of the country," Rev Nyirongo said.
A school aide Mussa Muzombora said he was sent to get young boys from Northern, Eastern and Luapula provinces so that they could be enrolled at the school.
Mr Muzombora said he became suspicious about the manner the children were being kept because they were mostly confined and subjected to Islamic teachings but with little academic activity.
He revealed that there was another centre in Makeni where another group of children was confined.
Mr Muzombora said the project was started in 2000 but he could not reveal the activities to the outsiders as he was scared of his superiors.
A representative from the Society for Moslem Youths, Ronald Banda said whenever any of the children fell sick, the authorities at the school would refuse to provide money to take them to the hospital.
The children who almost started rioting at the school urged the minister to take them to their parents as they were being mistreated and beaten all the time.
Rev Nyirongo was accompanied by Lusaka Province Minister Patrick Ngoma.
In a related matter, Government has rescinded its decision to redeploy 64 orphaned and vulnerable children accommodated at the Fountain of Hope drop-in-centre in Lusaka.
Child affairs director at the ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development, John Zulu said in Lusaka yesterday that the decision had been reached after a meeting with stakeholders.
Mr Zulu said he met United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) officials who agreed to improve the situation at the centre to provide better accommodation.