Rise in use of children in suicide attacks in West Africa: UNICEF

Rise in use of children in suicide attacks in West Africa: UNICEF

Rise in use of children in suicide attacks in West Africa: UNICEF

The abduction of 276 Chibok girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria three years ago marked a defining feature in the conflict in the Lake Chad region which has since witnessed an increasing use of children in so-called 'suicide' attacks, says a UNICEF report.

Since January 2014, 117 children – more than 80 per cent of them girls – have been used in suicide attacks in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon (the four together forming the Lake Chad basin/region), said the report 'Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crisis', released on the third anniversary of the abduction of girls.

"A defining feature of this conflict has been the increasing use of children in so-called 'suicide' attacks," the report said.
The increase reflects an alarming tactic by Boko Haram.

So far, four children in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 27 only in the first three months of 2017 have been used to carry out bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the report said, adding that girls have been used in the vast majority of these attacks.

The Islamic State-linked militant group Boko Haram had kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from a secondary school in Nigeria's northeastern town of Chibok in April, 2014. While some girls managed to escape, 21 were released last year after negotiations with the militant group.

However, as many as 195 girls still remain missing even as the Nigerian Defence Minister General Manir Dan Ali was recently quoted as saying that it may take "years" to find all the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by the militant group.

Talking to PTI about the situation, UNICEF regional officer Patrick Rose said the children in the lake Chad basin face a range of challenges. "More than 1.3 million have been displaced, many have lost loved ones and witnessed extreme violence. They're struggling to get back to school, back to normal life. Several thousand children have been abducted by Boko Haram and need additional support to help the return to their families and find a sense of hope," Rose said.

On the relief works going on in the affected countries both at the government and at the non-governmental level, he said humanitarian response is reaching millions of people with health care, water, food and education. He, however, said that despite a collection of global experts, security concerns make progress slower than what's needed.

"The increased use of children in attacks adds a horrific layer to the problem that's inhibiting the humanitarian response," he added.

When asked about the efforts to rescue the Chibok girls, Rose highlighted the challenges faced by the security forces that have thus far rendered their attempts unsuccessful in Borno state in north east of Nigeria, a hub of the insurgents.
"Borno state is roughly the size of Belgium. Boko Haram, while weakened, still controls large parts of the areas outside urban centers. Finding a group of children who are likely moving constantly in a heavily defended forest is a significant challenge that the security forces are dealing with. Our focus remains the needs of the thousands of children in equally desperate need of support," he told PTI.

Rose is the Crisis Communications Specialist for West and Central Africa, UNICEF and based out of Dakar in Senegal.
He said that in Lake Chad region, at present, the UNICEF is coordinating a multi-sectoral response helping children access health care, clean water, malnutrition treatment and education.

"Our work with the children who've been abducted is leading a series of community discussions about reintegration of the children and starting the healing process," he added.

However, UNICEF, which works across 190 countries and territories on issues of child rights, notes that the response to this crisis remains severely underfunded.

Last year, UNICEF's USD 154 million appeal for the Lake Chad Basin was only 40 per cent funded, it said. With the conflict now in its eighth year, families have gone through years of violence, loss and hardship in camps or host communities, and they have watched their children languish out of school and suffer from illness and malnutrition, the UNICEF report said.

"This crisis is marked by massive violations of children's rights – evident in the use of children on both sides of the insurgency. Boko Haram, in particular, has been leading a systematic campaign of abduction that has forced thousands of girls and boys into their ranks. Local militias, formed to protect their communities, have played a key role in stemming the tide of Boko Haram violence, but they too have used children in their operations," it said.