Nigeria: Militants use dozens of children as human bombs

A young, displaced Nigerian girl. Boko Haram militants have increasingly used children as human bombs. Photo: AFP

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This year saw a 400 per cent increase in child bombers compared to last year

Nigerian militants have used 83 children – including a baby strapped to a girl – as “human bombs” since the beginning of this year, according to Unicef.

The UN body expressed extreme concern about the appalling increase in the cruel and calculated use of children, especially girls, for terrorism in northeast Nigeria. This year saw a 400 per cent increase in child bombers compared to last year.
“The use of children in this way is an atrocity. Children used as ‘human bombs’ are, above all, victims, not perpetrators,” Unicef said.
According to Doune Porter, Unicef country representative in Nigeria, Boko Haram militants operating in the northeast of the country held about 8,000 children since 2009 in areas under their influence.

“In addition to the baby who was also strapped to the back of a girl carrying a bomb, the youngest child we know who was used as a human bomb was just 10 years old,” Porter told USA Today.
He said 127 children have been used since January 2014, 19 of those under the age of 10.

“Boko Haram just reached a point where their objectives have become obscure and ambiguous” – CARL LEVAN

But some believe the use of extreme tactics is a sign of desperation by the militant group, which is unable to attack military targets.
“Few years ago, they were targeting headquarters of armed forces in the Capital Abuja but they don’t have this capacity anymore. They are choosing soft targets and using children and women to terrorize the society” said Carl LeVan, a professor of African politics at American University.

Levan, who visited militant-hit Adamawa state in northeastern Nigeria last September, said his trip would not have been possible when the militant group was strong.
He said Boko Haram had never been able to leverage local support for their cause as they use coercion to meet their goals.

“Boko Haram just reached a point where their objectives have become obscure and ambiguous. Other terror groups like al-Qaeda had clear objectives but this group has lost sight of its objective and is facing extreme internal rift,” Levan said.
According to Porter, children were used as human bombs in Nigeria for the first time in 2014 when four girls were used. In 2015, the number rose to 21 girls and in 2016, 19 children were used – 15 girls and 4 boys.

Unicef said the use of children in bomb attacks has increased suspicion and fear of kids who have been released, rescued or escaped from Boko Haram. As a result, many children who have managed to flee captivity face rejection when they try to reintegrate into their communities, compounding their suffering.

The report comes amid a massive displacement and malnutrition crisis. There are 1.7 million people displaced by the insurgency in the Northeast, 85% of them in Borno State, where most of the militant attacks take place.
Northeast Nigeria is one of four countries and regions facing famine, with up to 450,000 children at risk of severe malnutrition this year.
– Associated Press