Shocking increase in use of child suicide bombers by Boko Haram

Children in conflicts

Smoke rises at scene of female suicide bombing in Gombe

Girls and women are increasingly being used as suicide bombers by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, UNICEF has warned.

The United Nations children’s agency said there had been more attacks already in 2015 than in the whole of last year and that the rise could mean children being perceived as potential threats.

Jean Gough, UNICEF Representative in the country, said: “Children are not instigating these suicide attacks – they are used intentionally by adults in the most horrific way. They are first and foremost victims, not perpetrators.”

Girls and women have been used to detonate bombs or explosive belts at crowded locations, such as market places and bus stations. They include kidnapped children but also those separated from families or displaced from their homes.

A young girl carried out a suicide bombing at a bus station on May 16, killing seven people and injuring 31. Witnesses said the girl, aged about 12, had the explosives hidden under her clothes at Damaturu in Yobe state.

Since July 2014, nine suicide incidents involving children believed by witnesses to be aged between about seven and 17 – all of them girls – have been reported. 

School for displaced people in Yola Picture: UNICEF/Esiebo

So far in 2015 there have been 27 suicide attacks recorded in Nigeria – one more than in all of 2014. In at least three-quarters of these incidents, women and children were reportedly used to carry out the attacks.

Nigeria has nine million children out of school. About 743,000 children have been uprooted from their homes by the growing violence perpetrated by Boko Haram in the northeast of the country and UNICEF believes as many as 10,000 of them are unaccompanied or were separated from their families when they fled the violence.

Ms Gough added: “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.”

Laurent Dutordoir, a UNICEF child protection specialist in the Nigerian capital Abuja, said the use of child suicide bombers could mean many children may be seen as a threat.

He said this could prevent the rehabilitation and reintegration of children who had been forced into being involved with armed groups.

Mr Dutordoir added: “UNICEF staff are travelling into the field on a weekly basis.” He said it was “working with local partners on the ground to reach those children, both in internally-displaced persons camps and in informal settings”.

A World at School and Gordon Brown, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, have been involved in the setting up of safe schools in Nigeria in response to the actions of Boko Haram.

In March, Mr Brown announced that almost 30,000 children displaced by Boko Haram are in double-shift schools and additional children in at-risk areas are benefiting from school relocation and increased security measures.

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