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Boko Haram used 135 children in 'perverse death missions' this year

Children in Nigeria and the Chad Basin are being viewed with increasing paranoia at checkpoints as they are thought to be the carriers of explosives.

On 16 February 2017, a suicide bomber detonated their vest among a convoy of civilian trucks which were loaded with goods to be ferried to Gamboro Ngala.
On 16 February 2017, a suicide bomber detonated their vest among a convoy of civilian trucks which were loaded with goods to be ferried to Gamboro Ngala.
Image: Ashley Gilbertson VII Photo

IN THE LAST year, 135 children have been used in so-called suicide attacks by terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin.

Figures provided to TheJournal.ie by children’s charity Unicef highlight an increase in the last year in children being used by the group in this way. There were 112 of these attacks in Nigeria and 23 in Cameroon.

Girls were more likely to be used in attacks, – 93 of the children involved in so-called suicide attacks were girls.

In a report earlier this year, the charity said the rise in these attacks this year is deeply troubling for both the civilian victims and for the children being forced to carry out the bombings.

Severe shock

They shared the story of one girl, called Amina, who grew up in a remote island of the Lake Chad.

She was 16 when she married a man from another village – she did not know that her new husband was part of Boko Haram.

After being manipulated and drugged, she was forced into an attempted suicide attack. Four people including Amina were on a canoe riding towards a weekly crowded market.

The four girls carried bombs that were strapped to their bodies. When a vigilante committee spotted them on the canoe, two of the girls activated their explosives belt.

Amina did not detonate her device, but she was injured in the explosion. She lost both her legs.

She was brought to the hospital in severe shock and with grave injuries. She didn’t speak and barely ate for months. Following family tracing efforts, her family was found, but they rejected her at first out of fear of stigma. After a process of mediation they took her back home.

Today, she is very dependent on her family to survive and is in urgent need of support to prevent her from being excluded by the community. She wants to get an education and find a way to support herself.

Paranoia

Unicef has said it is unclear whether some of these children are even aware of what they are being asked to do.

“That they are carrying explosives in a belt on their chests is incontrovertible, but it has been difficult to ascertain if some of these children are being used to transport the devices to other locations and other active combatants or if they are being forced into
a perverse death mission in exchange for promised redemption and martyrdom,” it said.

The upward trend of using children as a means to avoid detection is a defining feature of this conflict, already marked by grave human rights abuses. The result is that girls, boys and even infants are being viewed with increasing paranoia at checkpoints, where they are thought to be carriers of explosives.

Communities are becoming increasingly suspicious of children who have been linked to Boko Haram, creating barriers to reintegration and reconciliation.

“Society’s rejection of these children, and their sense of isolation and desperation, could be making them more vulnerable to promises of martyrdom through acceptance of dangerous and deadly missions,” according to Unicef.

Read: ‘The roof was blown off’: At least 50 killed in suicide bombing at Nigerian mosque>

Read ‘They beat me with an electric cable, while throwing water on me at the same time’>

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