The United Nations children’s organization UNICEF announced this week that the Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram has used 27 children as suicide bombers in the past three months, nearly the same amount as in the entirety of 2016.
The number represents a 200 percent increase from the same time period in 2016, when the organization recorded nine instances of child suicide bombing.
Boko Haram has increasingly turned to using children as suicide bombers as police forces in Nigeria’s northeast have implemented security measures to keep the terrorist group from successfully executing bombings at crowded markets, girls’ schools, and Shiite mosques.
“This is the worst possible use of children in conflict,” UNICEF officials said in their report on the topic, “Silent Shame: Bringing Out the Voices of Children Caught in the Lake Chad Crises.” The report revealed that observers have documented 117 such child suicide attacks in the past three years “across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.”
Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, emphasized the importance of local law enforcement treating the children as “victims, not perpetrators.” “Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible,” she said.
This is especially important with children who detonate their weapons and survive. Many families shun such children – who have likely been in Boko Haram captivity for some time before being forced into the suicide bombing – fearing that they remain a threat due to brainwashing.
“Society’s rejection of these children, and their sense of isolation and desperation, could be making them more vulnerable to promises of martyrdom through acceptance of dangerous and deadly missions,” the UNICEF report read.