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UNICEF raises alarm over number of child suicide bombers

15-year-old Nigerian refugee at the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon PHOTOS: BBC

15-year-old Nigerian refugee at the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon PHOTO: BBC

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has raised alarm over the increase in the number of children involved in suicide attacks in some West African countries.

The agency described those involved in the attacks as victims deceived into the act.

This is contained in a statement issued on Tuesday in Abuja and signed by UNICEF Regional Director for West/Central Africa, Mr Manuel Fontaine.

According to the statement, the affected countries are Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun and Niger with majority of them as females.

“The number of children involved in suicide attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger has risen sharply over the past years, from four in 2014 to 44 in 2015.

“More than 75 per cent of the children involved in the attacks were girls.

“These children are victims, not perpetrators, who are being deceived and forced to carry out deadly acts of violence in Nigeria and in neighbouring countries,” it said.

In the data released by UNICEF in the statement, Cameroon recorded the highest number of suicide attacks involving 21 children, followed by Nigeria with 17 children and Chad two between January 2014 and February 2016.

It added that the frequency of all suicide bombings increased from 32 in 2014 to 151 in 2015.

According to the statement, in 2015, 89 of the attacks were carried out in Nigeria, 39 in Cameroon, 16 in Chad and seven in Niger.

It added that the calculated use of children coerced into carrying bombs had created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.

The statement said it had devastating consequences for girls who had survived captivity and sexual violence by Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria.

In addition, it said children who escaped from or were released by armed groups were often seen as potential security threats.

“Children born as a result of sexual violence also encounter stigma and discrimination in their villages, host communities, and in camps for internally displaced persons.’

“As suicide attacks involving children become common place, some communities are starting to see children as threats to their safety.
“This suspicion towards children can have destructive consequences,” it said.

The statement, however, said UNICEF was partnering with communities affected by terrorism and insecurity to fight stigmatisation against children, survivors of violence towards better environment.

“UNICEF is working with communities and families in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger to fight stigma against survivors of sexual violence and to build a protective environment for former abductees.

“Together with partners, UNICEF provides safe water, life-saving health services, restore access to education, delivers therapeutic treatment to malnourished children and psycho-social support to children to help them cope with emotional distress,” it said.

However, UNICEF in the statement rued that the crisis intervention remained severely underfunded.

It said that only 11 per cent of the US$97 million needed for UNICEF’s humanitarian response has been received.

The agency called for increased commitment from donors to support conflict affected children and women in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.



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