The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has said that there is a significant upsurge in the number of children being used as suicide bombers by the Boko Haram terrorists.
This was contained in the organisation’s latest report released on Wednesday, which shows that the number of children suicide bombers in the Lake Chad basin rose to 27 in the first quarter of 2017, as against 9 over the same period in 2016.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, stated in the report that the figure “is nearly the same as the whole of last year – this is the worst possible use of children in conflict.”
“So far, 117 children have been used to carry out bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon since 2014: four in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 27 only in the first three months of 2017,” the report read.
Majority of the suicide bombers have been girls.
Poirier noted that the consequence of this sad development is that “girls, boys and even infants have been viewed with increasing fear at markets and checkpoints, where they are thought to carry explosives.”
“These children are victims, not perpetrators,” the UNICEF chief said, adding that the children “were either forced or deceived into committing such horrific acts.”
“Many children who have been associated with Boko Haram report that they keep their experience secret because they fear the stigmatization and even violent reprisals from their community.
“Some are compelled to bear their horrors in silence as they remove themselves from other groups for fear they might be ousted and stigmatized,” the UNICEF report stated.
The report also highlights the challenges that local authorities face with children who have been intercepted at checkpoints and taken into administrative custody for questioning and screening.
“In 2016, almost 1,500 children were under administrative custody in the four countries of Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon.
“The release of more than 200 children by Nigerian authorities on the 10th of April is a positive step towards the protection of children affected by the ongoing crisis.”
UNICEF, in the report called for an end to the “grave violations against children by Boko Haram including the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict as so-called ‘suicide bombers’.”
It also said that children must be moved “from a military to civilian environment as quickly as possible”, adding that “children who have been taken into custody solely for their alleged or actual association to armed groups should be immediately handed-over to civilian authorities for reintegration and support.”
The report indicated that, “In 2016, UNICEF reached over 312,000 children with psychosocial support in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and reunited more than 800 children with their families.”
However, the world body called for support as its response to this humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin “remains severely underfunded.”