The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday that the number of children used in suicide attacks, by suspected Boko Haram terrorists, had surged to 27 in the first quarter of 2017.
Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa said this in a report she released to journalists on Maiduguri on Wednesday.
Poirier also disclosed that the number showed 200 per cent increase compared to nine over the same period last year.
“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.
‘’The increase reflects an alarming tactic by the insurgents, according to the report entitled, `Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crises.
“So far, 117 children have been used to carry out bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon since 2014,’’ she said.
She disclosed that four children were used in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 27 only in the first three months of 2017
The UNICEF regional director also said girls were used in the majority of the attacks.
According to her, 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.
“These children are victims, not perpetrators. Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible”.
She said released three years after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, the report provided troubling accounts by children held in captivity at the hands of Boko Haram.
Quoting the report further, Pierre Poirier said tt showed how the affected children were met with deep suspicion when they returned to their communities.
She said many children associated with Boko Haram, when interviewed, said they kept their experiences secret, because they feared stigmatisation and violent reprisals from their community.
Some, she said, they were compelled to bear their horrors in silence as they detached from other groups for fear of being ousted and stigmatised.
The report also highlighted the challenges that local authorities faced with children intercepted at checkpoints and taken into administrative custody for questioning and screening, raising concern about the prolonged periods of custody.
The UNICEF regional director said that in 2016, almost 1,500 children were under administrative custody in the four countries.
Poirier said the release of more than 200 children by Nigerian authorities on April 10 was a positive step toward the protection of children affected by the ongoing crisis.
She called on parties to the conflict to commit to end grave violations against children by Boko Haram, including recruitment and use of children in armed conflict as so-called ‘suicide bombers’.
The fund also stressed the need to 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 with 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.
‘’Provide care and protection for separated and unaccompanied children. All children affected by the crisis need psychosocial support and safe spaces to recover.’’
In 2016, UNICEF reached over 312,000 children with psychosocial support in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and reunited more than 800 children with their families.
UNICEF is working with communities and families to fight stigma against survivours of sexual violence and to build a protective environment for former abductees.
In a crisis that has displaced more than 1.3 million children, UNICEF also supports local authorities to provide safe water and life-saving health services.
The fund said it restored access to education by creating temporary learning spaces as well as deliver therapeutic treatment to malnourished children.