The United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF has said that at least 117 children have been used to carry out suicide attacks across in public places across Nigeria and the Lake Chad crisis zone.
In a statement sent yesterday in Abuja to Nigerian Pilot from the UNICEF Office, it said that a new report from the agency has shown that there is an alarming rise in the number of children used by Boko Haram in bombing in Nigeria and neighboring conflict countries.
The statement said, ‘’ the increase reflects an alarming tactic by the insurgents, according to the report, ‘’Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crisis’’. 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. Girls have been used in the vast majority of these attacks.
In a new UNICEF report released three years after abduction of the 200 Chibok school girls in Maiduguri by insurgents, it said, ‘’The number of children used in ‘suicide’ attacks in the Lake Chad conflict has surged to 27 in the first quarter of 2017, compared to nine over the same period last year.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier who decried the situation said, “In the first three months of this year, the number of children used in bomb attacks is nearly the same as the whole of last year – this is the worst possible use of children in conflict.’’
‘’As a consequence, girls, boys and even infants have been viewed with increasing fear at markets and checkpoints, where they are thought to carry explosives.’’
Poirier further said, “These children are victims, not perpetrators,”, adding that “Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.”
UNICEF says that the report provides troubling accounts by children who were held in captivity at the hands of Boko Haram, and shows how these children are met with deep suspicion when they return to their communities.
‘’In interviews, 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 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, raising concerns about the prolonged periods of custody. In 2016, almost 1,500 children were under administrative custody in the four countries.
Further UNICEF has called on parties to the conflict to commit to actions to protect children in the region, such as ending grave violations against children by Boko Haram including the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict as so-called ‘suicide bombers’, provide care and protection for separated and unaccompanied children.
Move children from a military to civilian environment as quickly as possible. 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. Handover protocols should be in place in each of the four countries for children encountered during military operations.
The agency said that in 2016 it reached over 312,000 children with psychosocial support in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and reunited more than 800 children with their families, adding that is working with communities and families to fight stigma against survivors of sexual violence and to build a protective environment for former abductees.