Geneva, The number of children used by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram as suicide bombers tripled during the first three months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, the Unicef said in a report on Wednesday.
From January to March, 27 children were used in suicide attacks by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, which is active in Lake Chad region, compared to nine cases in the first quarter of 2016, according to the Unicef report ‘Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crisis’, the Efe news agency reported.
Unicef said the increase reflects “an alarming tactic” by the insurgents.
“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,” said Unicef’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier.
According to the report, 117 children have been used in the last four years to carry out bomb attacks in public places, including Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria: four in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016, and 27 in the first three months of 2017.
The report notes that girls have been used in the majority of these attacks.
As a consequence, in addition to the death and destruction caused by the suicide bombings, children have been perceived as a threat by society.
“These children are victims, not perpetrators,” Poirier emphasised.
Unicef revealed that many children who managed to escape Boko Haram keep their experience secret as they fear being stigmatised, while others are often held in prolonged custody by authorities as they are suspected of having ties with the terrorist group.
In the wake of this crisis, the organisation urged that children taken into custody for suspected links to armed groups should be immediately handed over to civilian authorities for reintegration, psychosocial support and safe spaces, so that they can recover.