The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has disclosed that the dreaded Boko Haram sect recruited 83 child bombers this year to perpetuate their evil activities in the Northeast.
In a statement, UNICEF said that this number is four times more than the number of child suicide bombers recruited by the sect in 2016.
The UN agency said of the 83 children recruited by the sect, 55 were girls under 15 years old and 27 were boys. One was a baby strapped to a girl as against 19 children recruited by the sect in 2016.
It further stated that it was “extremely concerned about an appalling increase in the cruel and calculated use of children, especially girls, as ‘human bombs’ in northeast Nigeria. The use of children in this way is an atrocity.
“Since 1 January 2017, 83 children have been used as ‘human bombs’; 55 were girls, most often under 15 years old; 27 were boys, and one was a baby strapped to a girl. The sex of the baby used in the explosion was impossible to determine.
“The use of children in this way is an atrocity. Children used as ‘human bombs’ are, above all, victims, not perpetrators.The armed group commonly known as Boko Haram has sometimes, but not always, claimed responsibility for these attacks, which target the civilian population.
“The use of children in such attacks has had a further impact of creating suspicion and fear of children who have been released, rescued or escaped from Boko Haram. As a result, many children who have managed to get away from captivity face rejection when they try to reintegrate into their communities, compounding their suffering” UNICEF stated.
The terrorist group since 2013 is making all efforts to create an Islamic state in the Lake Chad region, which spans parts of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. It gained notoriety by abducting more than 200 girls from the northeast Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014.
“There are 1.7 million people displaced by the insurgency in the northeast, 85 per cent of them in Borno State, where most of these attacks take place” UNICEF reported.
According to a Nigerian aid worker Rebecca Dali, who runs an agency that offers counseling for those who were abducted, children as young as four were among the 209 escapees her organization had helped since 2015.
“They (former abductees) are highly traumatized,” Dali told Reuters on Monday at the United Nations in Geneva, where she received an award from the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation for her humanitarian work.
Her team, which includes former police officers, identified some returnees as having been trained as suicide bombers.
“There were two girls taught by Boko Haram to be suicide bombers … The girls confirmed that they were taught that their life was not worth living, that if they die detonating the bomb and killing a lot of people, then their lives will be profitable,” Dali said.
Some 450,000 children are also at risk of life-threatening malnutrition by the end of the year in northeast Nigeria, UNICEF said.
President Muhammadu Buhari who returned to Nigeria after 105 days of medical vacation said that Nigeria would “reinforce and reinvigorate” its fight against the group following the latest wave of attacks.
UNICEF has reported that it is providing psychosocial support for children who have been held by Boko Haram and is also working with families and communities to foster the acceptance of children when they return. This includes providing social and economic reintegration support to the children and their families.
UNICEF also supports reconciliation activities in northeast Nigeria, led by respected community and religious leaders, including influential women, to help promote tolerance, acceptance and reintegration.