More women and children have been used as suicide bombers in Northeast Nigeria in the first five months of this year than during the whole of last year, according to reports collated by UNICEF.
In 2014, 26 suicide attacks were recorded, compared to 27 attacks as of May 2015. In at least three-quarters of these incidents, women and children were reportedly used to carry out the attacks.
“Children are not instigating these suicide attacks; they are used intentionally by adults in the most horrific way,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria. “They are first and foremost victims – not perpetrators.”
The frequency and intensity of the suicide attacks involving women and girls have increased sharply this year. Girls and women have been used to detonate bombs or explosive belts at crowded locations, such as market places and bus stations.
Since July 2014, nine suicide incidents involving children aged between approximately 7 and 17 years – all of them girls – have been reported. Their identity and exact ages have not been verified, as estimates are based primarily on eyewitness accounts.
An estimated 743,000 children have been uprooted by the conflict in the three most affected states in Nigeria; the number of unaccompanied and separated children could be as high as 10,000, according to UNICEF estimates.
“Many children have been separated from their families when they fled the violence, with no one to look after them,” said Gough. “Without the protection of their families, these children are at greater risk of exploitation by adults, and this can lead to involvement in criminal or armed group activities.”
UNICEF is concerned that the increasing use of children as suicide bombers could lead to children being perceived as potential threats, which would put all children associated with armed groups at risk of retaliation and would impede their rehabilitation and reintegration in their communities.
UNICEF and partners are working with national authorities to reduce children’s vulnerability by identifying children who are without parents or relatives and providing them with appropriate care. In addition, over 35,000 children have been reached with psychosocial support to help them cope with the acute distress they have suffered as a result of the conflict.
As the incoming President of Nigeria is expected to be sworn-in this week, UNICEF calls on the Nigerian authorities to place the safety and well-being of all children, especially those affected by the crisis in the Northeast, at the center of the political agenda.