Boko Haram: Soaring numbers of children used in suicide attacks, says Unicef
The number of children used in suicide attacks by Boko Haram has soared 11-fold over the past year, with more than three-quarters of bombings now carried out by girls, according to a Unicef report, ‘Beyond Chibok’.
Data from the UN children’s agency shows that 44 children were used in suicide attacks in north-east Nigeria and neighbouring countries in 2015, compared with four the previous year.
Between January 2014 and February 2016, there were 40 suicide attacks involving one child or more: 21 in Cameroon; 17 in Nigeria, and two in Chad.
The figures, released to mark the second anniversary of the abduction of more than 200 girls from the Nigerian town of Chibok, show that children now account for nearly a fifth of all suicide bombers in Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad.
Last year, children were used in half the attacks in Cameroon, one in eight in Chad, and one in seven in Nigeria. Girls accounted for three-quarters of child suicide bombers in 2015.
‘Children as young as eight’
“Over the past year, the estimated number of bomb attacks in north-east Nigeria and neighbouring countries has increased sharply,” says the report.
“The proportion of attacks involving boys and girls is also on the rise, with children as young as eight. The use of children, especially girls, as suicide bombers has become one of the defining and alarming features of the conflict.”
Unicef said 2015 had seen not only an increase in the overall number of suicide bombings but also the spread of the tactic beyond Nigeria’s borders for the first time.
Between the end of 2014 and the end of last year, the number of such attacks rose from 32 to 151. In 2015, 89 of these attacks were carried out in Nigeria, 39 in Cameroon, 16 in Chad and seven in Niger.
Manuel Fontaine, Unicef regional director for west and central Africa, said children used in suicide bombings should not be seen as willing combatants.
“Let us be clear: these children are victims, not perpetrators,” he said.
“Deceiving children and forcing them to carry out deadly acts has been one of the most horrific aspects of the violence in Nigeria and neighbouring countries.”
Suspicion towards children
Fontaine said Boko Haram’s use of children was having a corrosive social effect as communities began to view them as threats, or shun those who have been abused.
Research from Unicef and International Alert suggests that women and girls who have been subjected to sexual violence by the group face discrimination and rejection by their families and communities when they return home.
“This suspicion towards children can have destructive consequences,” said Fontaine. “How can a community rebuild itself when it is casting out its own sisters, daughters and mothers?” – The Guardian