Boko Haram has gradually been using more children to execute their ill-attacks on innocent communities, with one in five suicide bombers being carried out by children, UN’s Child agency has said.
United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) in their April report said that the number of children used as suicide bombers by the outlawed militia group is an 11-fold increase from 4 attacks in 2014 to 44 in 2015, including January 2016.
This change of tactic is seen by many as the loss of territory in Nigeria by the group.
These claims are also backed by a recent video released by the Boko Haram leader, Ibrahim Shekau, in what is seen as a declaration of defeat by the group. A forensic analysis of the video by the Coalition for Women Advancement in Africa showed that it is authentic.
According to the report, Beyond Chibok, up to 1.3 million children have been displaced from their homes in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger.
Unicef said that the Boko Haram insurgency has caused one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa.
“This complex emergency is first and foremost a crisis of children’s care and protection. In North East Nigeria and increasingly in neighboring countries, children are killed, maimed, abducted and recruited to armed groups.” It added that the young children are exposed to sexual violence, schools are attacked, and humanitarian access is limited.
The report was released ahead of the second anniversary of the kidnapping by the terror group of more than 200 girls who were abducted from their boarding school in the Nigerian town of Chibok.
Despite the universal uproar about the girls which led to ‘Bring Back our Girls’ campaign, none of the girls have yet been found.
When one a young girl, who was meant to carry out an attack at a camp, surrendered to Cameroonian authorities and claimed to be one of the Chibok girls, it roused hopes that the girls could be traced through her. To the disappointment of many, it was later confirmed that she was not a Chibok girl.
Examination on the young girl revealed that she was drugged. The report noted that more girls- three-quarters of all child bombers- than boys are used to carry out the atrocities. The girls are drugged and then explosives are strapped to their bodies and sent out to targeted areas. Additionally, the girls are also exposed to severe abuse including sexual violence and forced marriage to fighters.
To demonstrate their loyalty to Boko Haram, boys are forced to attack their own families.
Abducted by Boko Haram, rejected by families and friends
Speaking to Unicef, a 17-year-old girl by the name Khadija said she was abducted and locked up by Boko Haram. The Cameroonian girl was kidnapped when visiting her mother in Nigeria last year.
Although she refused to marry the militia, she fell pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy while still in captivity. She told Unicef that it wasn’t easy because the militia kept threatening her.
‘If you don’t marry us, we will kill you,’ they said.
“I will not marry you, even if you kill me,” she would tell them.
“Then they came for me at night. They kept me locked in a house for over a month and told me ‘whether you like it or not, we have already married you.’”
Luckily, she escaped with her son. Her joy was, however, cut short when she met with hostility from other women at a camp in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri. The women often accuse her of being a “Boko Haram wife”.
Unicef argued in a research paper, ‘Bad Blood’ that such women who return from incarceration are viewed with suspicion either because they are carrying the children of Boko Haram fighters or because of the fear they may turn against their own communities.
Children born as a result of sexual violence “risk being rejected and even killed for fear that they could turn against their families and communities when they grow up the report said.
Children as young as eight years old have been used as child suicide attackers. The report noted that Cameroon has the highest number of child bombers.
Since the wake of the Boko Haram that fights against western education among other things, more than 670,000 children are deprived of education. Unicef said that over 1,800 schools have been closed, damaged, looted, set on fire or used to shelter displaced persons, mostly in North-East Nigeria and Cameroon.
The conflicts have also brought about the separation of children from their parents, with Unicef placing the figure at more than 5,000.
Moreover, the war has increased the levels of poverty and starvation in the Lake Chad region where severe acute malnutrition is high among children.
According to the report, the rate of all suicide attacks increased from 32 in 2014 to 151 in 2015 with Nigeria leading in the suicide bombings (89), followed by Cameroon (39), Chad (16) and seven in Niger.
Image credit: AFP