Boko Haram using more children as suicide bombers

Boko Haram using more children as suicide bombers
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The radical African Islamist militant group Boko Haram has dramatically increased the number of children that it forces to act as suicide bombers, adding disturbing layers to the group’s prolonged presence in West Africa.

According to a United Nations report released on Tuesday, the number of children involved in the violence has risen more than tenfold over the last year, and nearly one of out every five suicide bombers is a child.

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More than three-quarters of the children are girls, some as young as 8 years old.

“Let us be clear: these children are victims, not perpetrators,” Manuel Fontaine, the regional director for West and Central Africa with UNICEF, the United Nation’s children’s agency, said in a statement. “Deceiving children and forcing them to carry out deadly acts has been one of the most horrific aspects of the violence in Nigeria and in neighboring countries.”

The U.N. report paints a devastating portrait of the ongoing conflict, which has spread through Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

Since May of 2013, roughly 2.3 million people have been forced out of their homes as the crisis overwhelms local governments.

The number of children being used as suicide bombers ballooned from four in 2014 to 44 in 2015. The greatest number of bombings involving children occurred in Cameroon, where children carried out roughly 50 percent of attacks.

The legacy of attacks has created problems for children who have escaped from or were released by Boko Haram and other armed groups. The children can be perceived to be security risks by local communities, ostracizing them from the rest of the population.  

“This suspicion towards children can have destructive consequences; how can a community rebuild itself when it is casting out its own sisters, daughters and mothers?” Fontaine asked.

Girls and women alike face “mistrust, discrimination and persecution” upon returning from capture, the U.N. agency said.

“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 on Tuesday was released ahead of the April 14 two-year anniversary of the disappearance of 270 schoolgirls in the Nigerian town of Chibok, whose case inspired a global outpouring of support. Since then, thousands more children have disappeared.

“The kidnapping of these young women, along with the kidnappings of countless others by Boko Haram, epitomizes this terrorist group’s depravity,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement on Tuesday.