The Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram used at least 135 children to conduct suicide bombings in West Africa in 2017, according to statistics revealed by UNICEF this week.
UNICEF notes that the attacks occurred throughout Nigeria and Cameroon and represented a five-fold increase from 2016.
In January, two children aged 7 and 12 carried out twin suicide bombings that killed 5 and injured 15 others at the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) in the capital of northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.
Last month, a young girl wearing an explosive vest also blew up herself and other schoolchildren in Cameroon, killing herself and four others, in another attack organized by Boko Haram.
Nigerian authorities repeatedly claimed to have defeated the terror group beginning as early as 2015, although attacks and kidnappings have continued throughout the country’s northeast.
The sobering report adds that 2017 has been a “nightmare year” for children’s human rights across global conflicts.
“Children in conflict zones around the world have come under attack at a shocking scale throughout the year, UNICEF warned today, with parties to conflicts blatantly disregarding international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable,” UNICEF wrote in its report.
“In some contexts, children abducted by extremist groups experience abuse yet again upon release when they are detained by security forces,” according to the report, which adds, “Millions of more children are paying an indirect price for these conflicts, suffering from malnutrition, disease and trauma as basic services – including access to food, water, sanitation, and health – are denied, damaged or destroyed in the fighting.”
”In conflicts around the world, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight,” it states. “Rape, forced marriage, abduction, and enslavement have become standard tactics in conflicts from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar.”
At least 5,000 children have died in Yemen as a result of a civil war that started three years ago.
Around 11 million children are now in need of humanitarian assistance, 1.8 million are suffering from malnutrition, and around 385,000 could soon die if they do not receive adequate medical assistance.
Meanwhile, as fighting against Islamic State continued to rage throughout the year, principally in Iraq and Syria, jihadists have repeatedly used children as “human shields” amid an onslaught of violence.
“Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools, and playgrounds,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF director of Emergency Programmes. “As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.”