The entire world was horrified when 270 Chibok schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in 2014. A report released by UNICEF reveals that the terrorist group’s violence against children has gotten even worse over the last two years, and the world has barely noticed it. The report, entitled Beyond Chibok, states that at least 1.3 million children throughout four countries in the Lake Chad region have been affected by Boko Haram’s violence since 2014. The study showed a disturbing new trend: the militant group is using more children as suicide bombers than ever before.
One of the biggest displacement crises in Africa
Boko Haram’s path of destruction has uprooted millions of people from their homes.
“The Boko Haram insurgency has triggered the displacement of 2.3 million people since May 2013,” UNICEF found. “Hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings are depriving people of essential services, destroying vital infrastructure and sowing fear. In North-East Nigeria, about 90 per cent of displaced families are sheltered by some of the world’s poorest communities, placing additional strain on already limited resources.” Children are especially affected – “In just one year, the number of displaced children increased by over 60 per cent, from 800,000 to 1.3 million children. This is one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa.”
Their stories are barely told
In areas affected by Boko Haram, schools are either destroyed or closed and families are separated. This leaves these displaced children vulnerable to exploitation from Boko Haram.
“Scores have been separated from their families and subjected to exploitation, abuse and recruitment by armed groups. Some have even been used to carry out suicide bombings. Yet, their stories are barely told,” the report states.
Boys are forced to fight for the terrorist group and they must attack their families to show their loyalty. Girls are often forced to marry to fighters and are exposed to sexual and domestic violence. And others are forced to give up their lives to become suicide bombers.
Child suicide bombers
The number of children used to detonate bombs was 11 times higher than that of last year. In the previous year, there were 4 child suicide bombings and in 2015, there were 44 of them. About one in every five suicide bombers from Boko Haram is a child. Children as young as eight years old have been used. About 75% of the child suicide bombers were female. Girls are more often chosen to be suicide bombers since they are less likely to cause suspicion. The children are usually drugged and then have the bombs strapped onto them. Some of the younger children used may not have even known that they were carrying a bomb until they were detonated remotely. The communities affected by Boko Haram have concluded that they cannot trust anyone – not even children.
“As ‘suicide’ attacks involving children become commonplace, some communities are starting to see children as threats to their safety,” Manuel Fontaine of UNICEF said. “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?”