According to a report by UNICEF, one in five of the suicide bombers used by Boko Haram over the last two years is a child.
The aim of the report is to examine in depth one of the most chilling elements of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. The group has been active mainly in Africa, and has been behind countless acts of theft, beheadings, kidnappings, and the torching of villages in the Lake Chad region of Africa.
Boko Haram attacks have claimed the lives of thousands of people and caused a severe food crisis. According to US military sources, Boko Haram's six-year expansion in Nigeria and beyond has killed over 15,000 people. Amnesty International, cited by Al Jazeera, confirmed that Boko Haram has kidnapped about 2,000 women and girls since 2014 to use them as cooks, sex slaves, fighters and suicide bombers.
As Dionne Searcey of the New York Times writes, the extremists deployed 44 children in suicide attacks in 2015 compared with only four the year before. According to UNICEF, the youngest bomber was identified to be only eight years old. The appalling statistics also showed that 75 percent of those children were girls, notes Chima Nwankwo of the Voice of America.
Toby Lanzer, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for that region, commented:
"To me, that's the epitome of evil. I cannot think of anything more horrifying."
Most of the attacks took place in Cameroon and Nigeria. Suicide bombings have already crossed Nigeria's borders, the report showed. The number of deadly attacks executed by children with explosives hidden under their clothes or in baskets has been rapidly increasing.
In the past two years, Cameroon has counted 21 suicide bombings involving children. Nigeria has reported 17 and Chad two, the survey revealed. Boko Haram has sent the children, who are often unaware they are carrying bombs, into crowded places such as markets and mosques where they are usually not seen as a potential threat. Girls who are used by Boko Haram for bombings are often drugged and then explosives are strapped to their bodies.
The UNICEF report comes out after the second anniversary of the kidnapping of 300 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria. Many of the victims managed to escape, but most are still missing. Intelligence officials believe they are being used as human shields for Boko Haram leaders hiding in the Sambisa Forest in the north part of the country.
As reported by the BBC, insecurity and constant terrorist attacks in the conflict zone of North-East Nigeria have prevented more than 670,000 children from being in classrooms for over a year. Nearly 1,800 schools in the area remained closed because parents were afraid to send their kids back to school.
Over the last 15 months, most of the areas controlled by the militants have been retaken by the joint multi-national military force and the militants are now thought to operate from Nigeria's Sambisa forest, near the border with Cameroon. As a result, in 2015, about 250,000 children were finally able to return to schools in conflict-affected areas in Nigeria.