By Chioma Obinna
As Nigeria commemorates this year’s Children’s Day, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has said that Nigerian children living in the northern part of the country bear the highest burden of violence even as it expressed concern that the increasing use of children as suicide bombers could lead to children being perceived as potential threats in the future.
In a statement to celebrate the Day, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Jean Gough said the conflict in the Northern part of the country has severely constrained full scale provision of health services thereby threatening their right to survival. “In Borno State children have not been to school for more than one year.”
According to Gough, the use of children as suicide bombers and the increase in the numbers of suicide bombings is an alarming and appalling trend in the perpetration of violence against children. “More children and women have been used as suicide bombers in Northeast Nigeria in the first five months of this year than during the whole of last year, according to reports collated by UNICEF.
“In 2014, 26 suicide attacks were recorded compared to 27 attacks as of May 2015. In at least three-quarters of these incidents, children and women were reportedly used to carry out the attacks. Girls and women have been used to detonate bombs or explosives belts at crowded locations, such as market places and bus stations.
“Children are not instigating these suicide attacks; they are used intentionally by adults in the most horrific way,” Gough stated. Since July 2014, nine suicide incidents involving children aged between approximately 7 and 17 years – all of them girls – have been reported. Their identity and exact ages have not been verified, as estimates are based primarily on eyewitness accounts.
An estimated 743,000 children have been uprooted by the conflict in the three most affected states in Nigeria; the number of unaccompanied and separated children could be as high as 10,000, according to UNICEF estimates. Gough added that many children have been separated from their families when they fled the violence, and have no one to look after them.
“Without the protection of their families, these children are at greater risk of exploitation by adults, and this can lead to involvement in criminal or armed group activities.”
UNICEF representative expressed concern that the increasing use of children as suicide bombers could lead to children being perceived as potential threats, which would put all children associated with armed groups at risk of retaliation and would impede their rehabilitation and reintegration in the community.
UNICEF and its partners are working with national authorities to reduce children’s vulnerability by identifying children who are without parents or relatives, and providing them with appropriate care. In addition, over 35,000 children have been reached with psychosocial support so they can cope with the acute distress they have suffered as a result of the conflict.