Use of children as 'human bombs' rising in north east Nigeria

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"These children are victims, not perpetrators", said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF's regional director for West and Central Africa, in April.

UNICEF's Chief of Communication, Doune Porter, who disclosed this in a statement in Abuja, lamented that the number of children already used as bombs within the last seven months was four times higher than it was in the whole of past year.

Aid workers prefer to describe such incidents as the use of "human bombs" rather than referring to the children as suicide bombers.

The agency pointed out that the use of children in such attacks had also created suspicion and fear of children who had been released, rescued of had escaped from Boko Haram.

The statement read, "Since January 1, 2017, 83 children have been used as "human bombs"; 55 were girls, most often under 15 years old; 27 were boys, and one was a baby strapped to a girl".

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The use of children in this way is an atrocity.

"The conflict has reached to a stage that these insurgents are diverting attention by using children", she said.

At least 83 children, mostly girls, used by the armed group in suicide attacks this year, says the United Nations agency.

More than 10,000 children have gone missing over that period, according to Unicef, while officials say around 40,000 children are now orphans.

Some 1.7 million people have fled their homes in the north-east, in the wake of the islamist insurgency that has caused the death of at least 20 000 people since its beginning in 2009.

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"There are instances of children being ostracized by their communities and worse".

Boko Haram had sometimes, but not always, claimed responsibility for the attacks, the agency added.

This week the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari said his government will toughen its campaign against Boko Haram.

The violence has also spread to neighbouring countries, leading to the closure of more than 2,000 schools in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, according to a 2015 UNICEF report.

Some 450,000 children are also at risk of life-threatening malnutrition in 2017 by the end of the year in northeast Nigeria, UNICEF said.

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"The attackers evaded a nearby military checkpoint by entering the village through bush paths", said Ibrahim Liman, the head of a local anti-jihadist militia force.

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