Boko Haram: Children increasingly being used as ‘suicide bombers’ in Nigeria

Tomorrow will make it two years since 276 girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria, by Islamist sect Boko Haram. Since then, the number of children involved in ‘suicide’ attacks in the country and neighbouring countries Cameroon, Chad and Niger has risen sharply, from 4 in 2014 to 44 in 2015, according to a UNICEF report released on Tuesday. More than 75 percent of the children involved in the attacks are girls.

Over the past two years, nearly 1 in 5 suicide bombers was a child and three quarters of these children were girls. Last year, children were used in 1 out of 2 attacks in Cameroon, 1 out of 8 in Chad, and 1 out of 7 in Nigeria, the report titled  Beyond Chibok says, adding that nearly 1.3 million children have been displaced by Boko Haram insurgency.

According to the report, the calculated use of children who may have been coerced into carrying bombs, has created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion that has devastating consequences for girls who have survived captivity and sexual violence by Boko Haram in North East Nigeria.

“As ‘suicide’ attacks involving children become commonplace, some communities are starting to see children as threats to their safety,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “This suspicion towards children can have destructive consequences; how can a community rebuild itself when it is casting out its own sisters, daughters and mothers?”

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Many of the girls captured by Boko Haram have experienced sexual violence while being hostages, and have also been trained to fight and become suicide bombers. According to Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence outfit, in a report published last year, Boko Haram has used more female suicide bombers than any other militant group in history. The lucky ones who escaped or were rescued by security forces, often face rejection by their communities who see them as potential security threats.

“Let us be clear: these children are victims, not perpetrators,” said Fontaine. “Deceiving children and forcing them to carry out deadly acts has been one of the most horrific aspects of the violence in Nigeria and in neighbouring countries.”

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However, UNICEF is working with communities and families in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger to fight stigma against survivors of sexual violence and to build a protective environment for former abductees.

Together with partners, UNICEF, which provides long-term humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries, provides safe water and life-saving health services; helps to restore access to education by creating temporary learning spaces; and delivers therapeutic treatment to malnourished children. It also provides psychosocial support to children to help them cope with emotional distress.